Spring is Here

crocus flower coming up in the snow

Today, March 20, 2018, is the first day of spring. Yes, really. It certainly doesn’t feel like it, with plunging temperatures and a winter storm warning in effect in New Jersey, but the first day of spring it is. And while right now it looks like it will never happen, the weather will eventually warm up and spring will finally be here.

Spring arrives with flowers, bugs, sun showers…. and health benefits. Here are 3 health benefits to seize this spring:

More Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that nearly all of us are deficient in. Too little vitamin D means calcium doesn’t get absorbed properly, which in turn results in brittle and weakened bones. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to different types of cancers, heart disease, depression, and weight gain. The vitamin assists in regulating the immune system and other body and cell functions.

While we can get vitamin D from nutrition supplements, the best way to get it is for your body to manufacture it itself from sunlight. Sun exposure—particularly UV-B rays—causes the body to develop vitamin D. Experts say fair-skinned people need just 10 minutes in the sun to produce 10,000 international units of vitamin D. More than that would be unsafe without sunscreen.

Make sure to spend time outside when the weather turns sunny. Regency Nursing’s facilities have beautiful gardens and patios to enjoy the bright spring and summer sun.

Increased Exercise

It’s so much more enjoyable to exercise out in the fresh air. And once that fresh air warms up, there’s an extra incentive to exercise. Exercising regularly offers so many health benefits, and when you jog or bicycle outdoors it brings your work out to a whole new level.

When you exercise outdoors, make sure to practice exercise safety—drink regularly and wear a wide-brimmed hat to avoid overheating. Wear well-fitting sneakers and make sure your laces are not in the way. And of course, check with your doctor before starting a new workout.

Better Mental Health

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a seasons-related depression that causes weight gain, tiredness, and irritability in the winter months. Even if you don’t have SAD, you still might have been experiencing the winter blues. In the winter we tend to “hibernate”—we stay indoors and don’t socialize as much. Now with spring coming, you can get out and enjoy nature’s rebirth.


Protect Seniors from Medicare Scams

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a senior or have a senior in your life. Did you know that every year, millions of seniors fall prey to scammers and crooks pretending to call from Medicare?

Here are some tips to help you or your loved one avoid these unscrupulous characters:

Medicare does not call beneficiaries

This is the number one piece of information that will help many seniors spot a scam. Medicare, like virtually all government offices, never makes unsolicited phone calls. To make this crystal clear: Unless you called Medicare and are expecting a call back, Medicare will not call you. They send letters if they want to tell you something.

Some scammers will call you, pretending to be from Medicare, and say you have a debt you must pay. Alternatively, they may claim Medicare owes you money and they need your bank account information for a direct deposit. Now, with Medicare replacing all beneficiaries’ insurance cards beginning this April, you may get a call from someone stating you need to pay for the new card. This is false; the card will be mailed to your house and it’s 100% free.

If there really is an outstanding debt, Medicare will mail you a letter about it. Do not let anyone intimidate you into paying your debt right now or they’ll come arrest you. If you get such a phone call, hang up and call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227) to check.

Don’t give personal information over the phone unless you made the phone call

If someone calls you claiming to be from your doctor’s office or hospital and requests your banking or insurance information, do not give it unless you personally  know the person you’re speaking to. Sometimes these crooks can obtain your health information through illegal means, and sound very convincing. Remember, you have the right to hang up and call your doctor’s office on their regular number and check with the receptionist that the call is legit.

Protect your Medicare card

Medicare advises you to treat your card as a credit card. Don’t leave it lying around, and only give the number to your doctor.

Be aware of Medicare fraud

Some real but unscrupulous companies will bill Medicare under your insurance ID for services you didn’t receive. Never sign for anything you’re not sure is 100% accurate. You have the right to ask your provider exactly what they will bill Medicare and how much your coinsurance is expected to be.

You should also review your or your parents’ explanation of benefits statements regularly. This is the document your insurance company sends you, itemizing the medical services they paid for. Call the insurance company right away if you notice any discrepancies.

If you have an elderly family member living alone, remind them about the possibility of scams. Follow the link below to download a handy print-out you can paste next to your loved one’s phone to help them remember about scams.

Click here: Free Printout for Phone

sample of printout to place near phone



Eat Your Leafy Greens

close up of green lettuceWe’ve long known the health benefits of eating green leafy vegetables. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals that help you lose weight, fight cancer, and keep your heart healthy. And now they can save your memory too.

Green Leafy Vegetables Improve Brain Function

A new study suggests that eating just one daily serving of green leafy vegetables—spinach, kale, lettuce—can significantly improve your brain function. The long-ranging study focused specifically on older people and followed their eating habits over five years. The results showed that people who ate 1.3 servings of leafy greens every day had the brain function of people 11 years younger.

Previous studies have told us that a nutritious diet plays an important part in cognitive function, but now we know that green leafy vegetables alone can prevent mental decline. The theory behind this revelation is that green leafy vegetables are rich in lutein and folate. Lutein is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation in the brain, and folate is a B-vitamin that reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other Benefits of Green Leafy Vegetables

Besides preventing mental decline, green leafy vegetables offer a wealth of other benefits:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Diabetes prevention
  • Weight management
  • Sun protection
  • Cancer prevention
  • Bone health
  • Eye health
  • Gut health
  • Excellent source of iron and calcium

How to Add Green Leafy Vegetables to your Diet

These vegetables are really easy to add to your diet, and they’re tasty too. If you’re not already eating 1–2 servings a day, you can start today with minimal investment.

The vegetables you want to add to your diet include arugula, broccoli, cabbage, chard, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, and spinach. They’re delicious in salads, stir fries, and on the side. You can also add them to your omelets, sandwiches, and even smoothies.

A serving of leafy vegetables is about 1 cup, or 1/2 cup cooked. Aim to consume two servings a day for maximum benefit.



Daylight Saving Time is 100 Years Old

Close-up of a clockIt’s time to spring forward again! Early Sunday morning, New Jersey will turn its clocks forward from 1:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. You’ll probably oversleep on Sunday, since your internal body clock will be an hour behind, but you should get used to the new time after a day or two.

Daylight saving time (DST) is a practice that is supposed to maximize the daylight. As winter turns to spring in countries far from the equator, the days get longer. The sun rises as early as 4:00 a.m. in the summer, so by the time most people start waking up at more earthly hours, the sun has already been shining for a while. By moving the clock forward, the sun rises—and sets—at a later time, thereby giving us more sunlight when we’re up and about.

You probably don’t remember a time without DST. That’s because daylight saving time is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the United States. It was first implemented in the US in March 1918, to preserve coal during World War I. In 1916, Germany moved the clocks forward in an effort to conserve fuel for the war effort. The United Kingdom, recognizing a good idea even though they were fighting Germany at the time,  followed suit a few weeks later. It took two years for the United States to to implement it as well.

After the Great War, most American cities dropped DST, only to pick it up again during World War II. During the war years, DST was actually used year-round to provide more daylight and conserve fuel. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which standardized the start and end dates for daylight saving time.

Daylight Saving Time: Good or Bad?

Daylight saving time is a hotly contested topic year after year. Proponents argue it saves energy and money, reduces car accidents, and gets people outdoors more. Symptoms of SAD—seasonal affective disroder—decrease after the time change. Another health benefit is that people are more likely to be active during DST, and Vitamin D intake from sun exposure increases as well.

Skeptics claim the savings—if they exist at all—are insignificant, and DST is nothing but a disruptive annoyance. Changing the clock interferes with your body’s circadian rhythm and makes you feel tired for a few days. Some people feel the effect of the time shift for weeks afterward. There was also a startling study that showed that moving the clock forward can trigger heart attacks in those already at risk.

To reduce the effect of losing an hour of sleep, start moving up your bedtime tonight. Give yourself an extra half hour to sleep, and do the same on Saturday night.

At this point, DST is an institution in the United States, and most people appreciate having more daylight hours. It’s hard to tell whether or not we get any meaningful benefit from it, but it’s still fun to change the clock twice a year!


It’s Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a long-lasting autoimmune disease that causes degeneration throughout the body. It happens when your immune system attacks the myelin sheath, the fatty material protecting your nerve fibers. Your nerves become damaged without this protective layer, and they don’t work as they should.

MS affects everybody differently. Some people have mild symptoms that don’t require treatment, while others will be confined to a wheelchair. It’s also often a degenerative disease, which means it gets worse as time passes. Here we’ll talk about the basics of MS—the early signs, common symptoms, and basic treatments.

Multiple Sclerosis: Early Signs

The first symptoms tend to show up between the ages of 20 and 40. Sometimes symptoms will flare up periodically and then die down, while others linger long-term. MS presents differently in every person; some have a single symptom and then go for years without any other problems, while others will experience a rapid progression of the disease in a matter of weeks.

In many cases, the first sign of MS is called a “clinically isolated syndrome.” As its name suggests, CIS is an isolated neurological episode where your immune system attacks the myelin sheath. It causes nerve damage that results in temporary symptoms of MS. This often presents as optic neuritis—blurry vision, eye pain—or numbness and tingling to the legs. You may also feel something like an electric shock when you move your head or neck.

Having CIS does not mean you will develop MS, but if it happens a few times, your doctor will order an MRI to check for nerve damage and diagnose MS.

Multiple Sclerosis: Symptoms

Ongoing myelin and nerve damage will cause a range of symptoms all over the body. These symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination and trouble emptying your bladder
  • Bowel problems and onstipation.
  • Difficulty walking and keeping your balance
  • Clumsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Double vision
  • Muscle spasms, particularly in the legs
  • Slurred or nasal speech
  • Cognitive difficulty or fuzzy memory
  • Tremors
  • Skin sensations such as severe itching, burning, or stabbing pains

These symptoms present with varying degrees of severity, and in many cases some won’t appear at all. For people with progressive MS, the symptoms may be mild at first, and become worse and worse over the subsequent months and years.

Most people with MS can effectively manage their symptoms and continue living fully and happily.

Multiple Sclerosis: Treatment

There is no cure for MS; we aren’t even sure what triggers it in the first place. However, there are many medicines that help prevent nerve damage and slow the disease’s progression. Your lifestyle choices—such as exercise and stress relief—can also play a big part in managing your symptoms.

There are several types of medications and treatments available. Some, such as disease-modifying drugs and steroids, are used to prevent relapses. Others are prescribed to help you manage your symptoms. Different drugs help fight fatigue, relax your muscles, control your bladder, give some pain relief, and ease muscle spasms. Some forms of MS, especially severe and progressive MS, may respond well to a plasma exchange. This is a process that involves removing your diseased plasma and replacing it with a healthier version. 

There are many non-medical ways to manage symptoms as well. If you suffer from constipation, increasing fiber to your diet can help. Swimming is excellent for easing stiff muscles. Low-impact exercises like tai chi and yoga can also help manage symptoms. Certain foods are also beneficial for people with MS. These include turmeric—a bright yellow spice common in Indian cuisine,  fruits and vegetables, ginger, green tea, salmon, legumes, and whole grains. Vitamin D is also an important part of diet.

Living with a chronic illness is tough, and it’s natural to feel anxious or depressed. Exercise is a natural mood-booster, so try a light workout or other stress relief techniques. You may want to meet with a counselor to help you process your feelings, or speak with your doctor about taking an antidepressant.

Remember, if you have MS, you’re not alone. Visit the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America’s website for more information and resources.


Being a Couch Potato is a Dementia Risk

Being out of shape can cause changes in your brain that may increase your risk for dementia. A new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that poor cardiovascular fitness caused memory loss and cognitive impairment in over 60 percent of the study participants.  The study results show the lower your cardiovascular fitness, the more the nerve fibers in the brain’s “white matter” — the area that affects learning and memory — deteriorates. This is the same kind of damage we see in dementia patients.

We tend to think that so-called “brain exercises,” such as logic and crossword puzzles, keep the brain healthy. There is no evidence that’s the case. Research actually supports that physical exercise is the key to brain health. It seems that the brain needs the same types of exercise as the heart to stay healthy.

Previous studies suggested that physically active adults had lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease. This new study shows more of the mechanics behind that. If higher levels of fitness correlate with lower levels of “white matter” deterioration, it follows that regularly working out can play a key part in reducing brain degeneration.

Here are the results of other studies connecting the affects of exercise and cognitive function:

  • When older, sedentary men and women started walking 40 minutes a day, three times a week, the hippocampus, the area of the brain connected to memory, increased in size. The hippocampus generally decreases as you age.
  • Men and women with an average age of 71 performed as well on memory tests as those a decade younger than them after five years of moderate or vigorous exercising.
  • Women who participated in strength training at least once a week had a 15% improvement in cognitive function.

The recommended amount of aerobic exercise for older adults is 75-150 minutes a week. Working out for just 30 minutes a day will give your mood a boost — and just might help you fight dementia too.



Ambulance Transports and Medicare: What Is and Isn’t Covered

If your loved one requires an ambulance for any reason, you might wonder whether or not Medicare will cover it. Ambulance transports are covered under Part B (outpatient) Medicare, but there are many regulations and limitations surrounding coverage.

It’s important to know your coverage and rights in advance. The best customer is an informed one, and that is especially true in medical care!

So here’s what you have to know about coverage of ambulance transports:

Allowed Amounts

Before we go into the coverage of various types of transports, let’s talk about “allowed amounts” for a minute. Medicare has a capped amount they allow for each ambulance ride, and anything above that amount is the provider’s responsibility.

Medicare covers 80% of the allowed amount. You will be responsible for the 20% coinsurance, unless you have a Medigap plan and/or Medicaid. If you haven’t yet paid your deductible for the calendar year, you will need to pay it before coverage kicks in.

Emergency Transports

Medicare always covers transports for emergencies. When you call 911 during an emergency, the transport to the hospital will be covered at 80% of the allowed amount.

An emergency transport’s Medicare coinsurance is normally around $80. If you have Medicaid or a Medigap (Medicare supplement) plan, they will cover the balance. Many other secondary or supplemental insurance plans will cover the emergency transport coinsurance as well.

Non-emergency Ambulance Transports

Residents of nursing homes are able to see the attending doctor when he makes his rounds in the facility. But if they need to see a specialist—such as a cardiologist or dermatologist—they usually need to go to the doctor’s office. Nursing home residents also sometimes need to go to a hospital or clinic for certain treatments unavailable at their facility.

Usually, residents who need to go out for appointments are able to go by private car or taxi. But if your parent is bed-confined or otherwise unable to ride in a car, he or she will need a non-emergency ambulance transport. Medicare has strict rules about coverage for non-emergency transports.

The ambulance provider must get a doctor’s order affirming that an ambulance is necessary. They must also document the patient’s condition, and may not bill Medicare if the patient did not technically need the ambulance. Medicare automatically denies payment to any claim that does not meet their medical necessity standards.

Medicare also doesn’t cover transports to doctors’ offices. If your mom is at the facility under her Part A stay, the first 100 days of rehab care, the facility must pay for the transport. Otherwise, she will be responsible for the full cost of the transport.

Some secondary insurances will cover routine ambulance transports. If your mom or dad will need an ambulance for an appointment or treatment, check their coverage beforehand. This will help you avoid expensive surprises after the fact.

Repetitive Ambulance Transports

Say your dad is at Regency Heritage in Somerset, NJ, and has weekly wound care treatments at Robert Wood Johnson hospital. If he needs to go via ambulance—the wound location makes it difficult or impossible to sit, for example—Medicare considers that “repetitive transports”or a “frequency.”

Repetitive transports include trips to and from dialysis, chemotherapy, radiation, and wound care. The rules for repetitive transports are even stricter than those of regular one-time ambulance transports. Medicare only pays for trips that were authorized in advance and meet rigorous medical necessity standards. Frequencies that were not authorized or were found afterward to be medically unnecessary are the patient’s responsibility.

Non-medical Transports

Medicare only covers ambulance transports to “covered” locations. These are typically a hospital, the patient’s residence, a skilled nursing facility, or a clinic. All other locations are not covered. If you want to bring your bed-confined parent to a family party, for example, be prepared to foot the bill.

Medicare will also only cover transfers from one facility to another if the second facility offers care unavailable at the first. If you want to switch mom or dad to a skilled nursing facility closer to you, Medicare will not cover that transport.

Mobility Access Vehicles (MAV)

Medicare doesn’t cover non-ambulance transports, even for medical reasons. Trips in private cars, taxis, paratransit services, or any other specialized vehicle will not be covered. Some private insurances will cover transports in certified wheelchair vans.

Be an Informed Customer

If your loved one needs to go by ambulance for a routine appointment, here are some questions you can ask to make sure you won’t be hit with unexpected charges:

  • Does he or she absolutely require an ambulance?
  • Why can’t I take him or her in my car?
  • Did his or her doctor sign a Certificate of Medical Necessity?
  • Were all required authorizations for both Medicare and private insurance obtained?
  • If the transport is to a doctor’s office, will the facility cover the transport?
  • What will my parent’s out-of-pocket cost be?
  • Which company will be transporting my parent? How can I reach them with questions?

If your parent receives a bill you think is too high, or you feel Medicare should have paid for the trip, you have the right to appeal to Medicare. You can also contact the ambulance company and request an explanation for the charge.