Protect Your Vision

Most adults start experience vision problems right around midlife. Beginning in early to mid-40s, many people start noticing they can’t see as clearly as they used to, especially at close distances.

This is actually one of the most common medical problems people between the ages of 40 and 60 encounter. It might start with needing to hold your book or phone screen farther away from your face to see the words clearly. If you already wear prescription glasses, you might find yourself taking off your glasses to look at something up close. Many older adults find they need brighter lights in their work or living spaces to see as well as they used to.

These are all signs of normal age-related changes to the eye’s ability to focus. When you reach middle age, you should see an optometrist at least once every two years to monitor any developing conditions and vision problems.

People with chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure are especially susceptible to eye problems. Many medications for common health problems such as high cholesterol, thyroid issues, and anxiety can also cause vision side effects.

For many seniors, eyesight problems is a serious worry. Nothing stifles independence like not being able to see, especially it your vision deteriorates when you’re already feeling weaker and more vulnerable.

Here are some tips to protect your eyesight at any age:

Go for regular exams

As we mentioned above, you should be seeing an eye doctor at least every two years, from middle age. It’s always easier to treat problems as soon as they crop up, so finding a vision problem in its earliest stages is so important.

When you get your eyesight checked regularly, your doctor can also monitor and increase your prescription as necessary.

You should also go for regular health screenings. Untreated diabetes or high blood pressure can cause severe vision problems and loss, so it’s important to keep your health in the best shape possible.

Wear sunglasses outdoors

Yes, even in the winter, and even when it’s not so sunny out. Harmful UV rays can still affect your retinas even on blustery days, and our eyes become more susceptible to them with age.

Make sure your sunglasses have 100 percent UV protection, and wear them whenever you’re outside during the day.

Pay attention to your diet

Colorful fruits and dark green vegetables are rich in antioxidants that can preserve your eye health. Some studies have shown antioxidants play a role in reducing your risk of cataracts.

Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, can also help reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in seniors).


We already know how important exercise is for our general health, but did you know it’s also great for your eyes? Regular exercise can reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration by up to 70 percent!

Quit smoking

If you need another reason to quit smoking, studies show that people who smoke are at much greater risk of vision problems.

Family history also has a big affect on your eyesight, and some doctors say it’s the single biggest indicator of your own eye health. However, following these tips to improve your eye health certainly won’t hurt, and it will help your overall health too!

Male Caregivers: An Overlooked Population

What do you think of when hear the word “caregiver”?

You probably imagine a woman, often in middle age or later, working herself to the bone caring for an elderly spouse, parent, or other loved one. You probably don’t think of men.

But male caregivers are on the rise. Specifically for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, men account for almost 40 percent of caregivers. This is double the amount of male caregivers 15 years ago.

There are many factors that go into this huge increase, ranging from economic to societal. Another important factor is that more aging women have Alzheimer’s than men, putting their husbands in the caregiving seat.

Regardless of what’s causing it, the fact is, men make up a large percentage of caregivers. Most resources for caregivers, though, are geared to women. As an example, caregiver support groups are dominated by women, with very few men represented.

Today we’ll pay some attention to this neglected group, by bringing you some tips specifically for male caregivers.

1. Open up about your feelings.

While each individual man or woman deals with their emotions in their unique ways, men as a group tend to be more closed.

Caregiving, though, is a very tough and emotionally draining job. Caregivers, especially when they’re caring for a parent or spouse, experience a huge range of emotions on a daily basis. It’s important to talk them out and release them, so you don’t constantly carry the toxic load of guilt, resentment, fear, stress, and other emotions.

To help you process your feelings in healthy way, find at least one close friend or family member who can support you on this journey. Studies have shown that while men are more likely to talk to friends and coworkers about the practical aspects of caregiving, they’re slower to admit to emotional stress or depression as a result of it.

Don’t get caught up in trying to “be strong” and “take it like a man.” All humans need to express and release strong emotions and stress.

2. Give and get support.

Consider joining a support group, or starting one specifically for male caregivers. While most of the issues that come up in caregiving are universal for men and women, there are differences in the way they handle things. For example, women tend to be more emotional, while men are more practical-minded.

Men may feel safer to share their outlook among other men. Some men even find it easier to participate in online caregiver forums than attend in-person meetings. Try out both mediums, and see what works for you.

3. Don’t overlook self-care.

This is important for all caregivers, but an especially important reminder for men. Statistically, men don’t see their primary care physicians as often as women do, and they also don’t take their aches and pains as seriously.

Men: take care of yourselves. You owe it to the loved one you’re caring for, and you owe it to yourself.

Particularly if you yourself are elderly, it’s important to eat well, get enough sleep, and see your doctor when you feel ill.

4. Keep in mind the gender bias.

Unfortunately, a deeply held gender bias still exists in caregiving. Even if you are your parent’s primary caregiver, their doctors may still assume your sister is the one in charge. Make sure all medical providers involved in your loved one’s care know you are the one most knowledgeable about the patient’s condition, and they need to speak to you.

For the male caregivers reading this, have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments.

Caregiving Children: Don’t Neglect Your Own Long-Term Care

Dear Adult Children of Regency Nursing Residents,

First of all, we want to tell you we think you’re incredible. You come to visit as often as you can, you make sure your parent receives the care and compassion he or she deserves, and you handle any issue that comes up with composure and devotion.

You chose Regency Nursing because you love your parent and wanted the best for them. We’re deeply honored that your loved one is here with us.

But today, let’s talk about you and your future.

You know only too well how expensive aging can be. Your income is fixed, your health is declining, and the medical costs keep piling up. There are co-payments for drugs, hospital stays, doctor’s visits, and procedures. Not everyone can get on Medicaid, and if you need skilled nursing care, well, let’s hope you have a 3-day qualifying hospital stay so Medicare will cover it.

And of course, you know that custodial care—that is, non-skilled long-term nursing care—isn’t covered by Medicare at all. Nursing home stays in New Jersey average $100,000 a year. Will you be able to shoulder these costs in your retirement?

Dear friend, you may be perfectly healthy and feel a world away from facing these financial challenges. But the time to plan is now. Experts say it’s never too early to start planning for long-term care, and starting in your 50s, or even 60s, isn’t too late.

Here are two ways to fund your own long-term care that you might want to explore:

Long-Term Care Insurance

Traditional Long-Term Care (LTC) Insurance  is a separate insurance policy that covers home, hospice, nursing home, and assisted living care. You may also be able to add an LTC rider to a new or existing life insurance plan.

Self-Fund Your Long-Term Care

You can prepare for your LTC needs using a reverse mortgage, annuity, or trust. If you’re young enough, you can also start saving now using a high-interest account or stock portfolio.

We urge you to sit down with your financial planner to explore your options as soon as possible. You know the costs—both financial and emotional—of long-term health problems. You know these challenges are almost always an inevitable part of aging. Why wait?

For more information, check out this page from the Administration on Aging: Costs & How to Pay

Thank you for partnering with us in caring for your loved one, and we wish you a wonderful weekend!

Regency Nursing


Did You Get Your Pneumococcal Vaccine?

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a project of the CDC and National Public Health Information Coalition.

Immunizations are a public health concern because un-immunized people can spread diseases to their loved ones, neighbors, and co-workers. Vaccines are especially important for seniors, because their bodies are often frailer and more susceptible to complications of various diseases.

Here at Regency Nursing, we take vaccines very seriously for our residents and staff. If you visit loved ones at a Regency facility often, we request you stay up-to-date on your vaccines. The last thing you want to do is infect your elderly loved one or her roommate.

In honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, we’ll highlight a different vaccine every week on our blog. There are specific vaccines that are recommended specifically for seniors, so today we’ll talk about a vaccine you should take if you’re 65 or older.

national immunization awareness month logo

Pneumococcal Infections

Pneumococci are a type of bacteria that love infecting people with illnesses that range from mildly annoying to life-threatening. Healthy people can carry the bacteria in their nasal passages, and spread it to other less healthy people by sneezing or coughing.

The most common infections, from mild to severe, are:

  • Ear infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis
  • Meningitis

Ear and sinus infections, while painful and sometimes debilitating, are generally complication-free. There are cases where these usually harmless infections turned deadly, but the chance of that happening is extremely small.

On the other hand, pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis are serious infections that can be deadly if not treated promptly. They also carry a high risk of hospitalization and complication.

Old age is a risk factor in all three of these serious pneumococcal infections, and elderly people are also more likely to suffer complications from them. Hospitalization alone can significantly raise your risk of complication.

Pneumococcal Vaccine

Fortunately, there is a fairly effective way to protect yourself or your loved one against pneumococcal infections. You even have options: there are two approved pneumococcal shots available.

The Centers for Disease Control advises all adults 65 years and older to get either the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, marketed as Prevnar 13, or the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, brand name Pneumovax.

If you are 65 years old or above and have not yet gotten either of these shots, talk with your doctor today.



All About Dysphagia

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing food, is a common condition among seniors. The culprits are usually either nerve or muscle problems that make it hard to get the food down to the stomach.

How Swallowing Works

You probably don’t give swallowing a second thought; it’s a natural process that just happens on its own. But it’s actually a pretty complex process. Around 50 pairs of muscles and many more nerves work together to chew your food and move it to from your moth to your stomach. It happens in three stages:

  • In the oral phase, the tongue and jaw move the food around your mouth. This stage includes chewing to break down the food into the right size and mix it with saliva for the right texture.
  • The pharyngeal phase begins when your tongue pushes the food to the back of your mouth. When the food reaches a certain point, it triggers the swallowing reflex that closes the voice box and airways.
  • The esophageal phase is about three seconds long, and involves the food’s passage through your esophagus—the tube that carries food and liquid to the stomach.

When Dysphagia Occurs

If any of the many muscles or nerves involved in this team effort are weakened or otherwise impaired, one or more of the above phases can be disrupted.

Dysphagia is usually a symptom of another condition; it rarely occurs on its own. For example, Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition, can cause swallowing difficulties. In another example, stroke or head injury can weaken the oral muscles or affect their coordination.

Difficulty swallowing can cause a range of problems. These can be serious, and even life-threatening. Some of the effects of dysphagia include:

  • Weight loss—if you can’t swallow your food, you can’t maintain a healthy weight.
  • Choking—if chewing is affected, your food might go down in large pieces and get caught in the airway.
  • Aspiration pneumonia—this happens when food gets into the airway in small amounts, stays there, and becomes infected.
  • Esophageal weakness—this can cause a pocket to develop outside the esophagus, and trap food there. The food could then become dislodged during sleep, and cause choking or aspiration.

How to Treat Dysphagia

There are different ways to treat dysphagia, depending on the specific cause and kind of swallowing disorder.

If possible, a non-invasive way to treat dysphagia would be to alter the way you consume your food. You may need to change the food texture, temperature, size, or even your posture. Speech therapists who specialize in dysphagia can teach you specific maneuvers designed to keep food away from the airway when swallowing.

In same cases, muscle exercises can strengthen weak facial muscles or improve chewing coordination.

Many times, especially in progressive conditions, surgical insertion of a feeding tube will become necessary. The tube bypasses the weakened part of the tract and delivers nutrients directly to the stomach.

At Regency Nursing, our nurses our experts in care for patients with dysphagia and feeding tubes. Contact us to find out more.

How Palliative Care Can Smooth Your Cancer Journey

We’ve written a lot about palliative care in the past here on the Regency Blog. As an example, here is a detailed post about the difference between palliative care and hospice care.

As a quick recap, palliative care is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. This is care given in conjunction with curative medical care, most commonly for cancer. The patient will see an oncologist or other doctor to treat and hopefully cure his cancer, and will also see a palliative care specialist to help manage pain and other unpleasant side effects from the disease and its treatment.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is a philosophy of care that focuses on relieving a terminally ill patient’s symptoms. On hospice care, the patient typically discontinues all curative care, and focuses on physical, emotional, and spiritual support during the last months and weeks of their life.

In short: Palliative care is an important part of the hospice program, but it is also a level of care on its own. Anybody suffering from any uncomfortable disease can benefit from palliative care.

How Does Palliative Care Help With Cancer?

A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and frightening. Most of the time you need to act quickly against the cancer, and you’re plunged into a world of treatments, pain, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Palliative care can help maximize your quality of life and peace of mind during the turbulent ride of cancer treatment. Your expert palliative care providers can offer effective pain relief, symptom management, improved communication, and emotional support while you navigate your cancer. The team also extends support to the patient’s loved ones who are also hurting.

The care team usually consists of a doctor or nurse practitioner, a social worker, and a spiritual care provider such as clergy.

Says Dr. Rebecca Burke, palliative care specialist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, “Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a cancer diagnosis and can be provided along with curative treatment. The oncology team may refer patients to meet with the palliative care team due to worsening pain, uncontrolled symptoms, or for extra support when facing serious illness.”

Dr. Burke provides palliative care to outpatients at Rutgers Cancer Institute, as well as at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Her team helps cancer patients manage pain, control nausea, deal with anxiety, and many other issues.

“A growing body of research shows that early consultation with the palliative care team leads to improved pain and symptom management,” Dr. Burke says. “Some studies have even shown improved survival when palliative care is provided early in the course of cancer care.”

Why You Should Join a Caregiver Support Group

Over 34 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or over in the last year. (Source) Nearly three-quarters of them are women, and they tend to spend at least 50% of their time caring for their loved one.

It can be tough and isolating as you devote your time and energy to caring for your elderly loved one. But if you’re a caregiving child, spouse, or other relative, you’re in good company. Seeking out other caregivers can help you feel less alone.

Caregiver support groups are a great way to meet other caregivers, share ideas and resources, and commiserate with people who actually know what you’re going through.

Benefits of Support Groups for Caregivers

We’ve talked before about preventing caregiver burnout, and joining a support group can help with that. The other members of your support group can provide invaluable resources and information, as well as an objective look at how you’re doing and how close to burning out you are.

Here are the top benefits of joining a caregiver support group:

  • Meeting with others in your situation will help you feel less lonely or isolated.
  • Support groups are non-judgmental environments where members don’t question your devotion to your care recipient.
  • Members of your support group can help you deal with the feelings of guilt, helplessness, anger, frustration, or other emotions that develop while caregiving.
  • Participating in a support group will provide valuable resources to help you feel more empowered and in control.
  • Your stress levels will go down when you have a supportive group of people rooting for you and providing information.
  • You’ll develop a clearer understanding of your loved one’s condition and prognosis, from people who have “been there, done that.”
  • Support groups are gold mines of practical advice, information about treatment options, reviews of hospitals, doctors, and long-term care facilities, and insurance problems.
  • You’ll improve your quality of life and your ability to care for your loved one.
  • With the help of your support group, you may be able to keep your loved one at home longer. And when it becomes time to move the patient to a skilled nursing facility, your group can help you deal with your conflicting emotions of guilt and relief.
  • Your experience with caregiving can help others just starting out in the caregiving journey.

Where to Find Local Support Groups

First check with your local hospital or community center; they should have a complete list of all local groups. Many nursing facilities or adult day care centers will host support groups, so that’s also a good place to look. For instance, our own Regency Gardens in Wayne hosts a monthly support group for people who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

If you’re looking for a group that focused on your loved one’s specific conditions, check the websites associated with that condition. For example, the American Cancer Society has a searchable listing of local resources, including caregiver support groups, on their website.

Other common websites include:

While in-person meetings are the most beneficial, there are also countless facebook groups and online support groups for caregivers. If you find you really can’t get out to a weekly or monthly meeting, this might be a good substitute. Check here for a list of online support groups:

However you choose to get your support, joining a group will help you navigate the challenges of caregiving.

Critical Blood Shortage in New Jersey

One out of every three people will need donated blood at some point in their lives. If you or your loved one are a senior, you’re even more likely to have encountered the need for a blood transfusion this year.

The American Red Cross announced a critical blood shortage late last month. They’ve issued an emergency call for donors of all blood types. If you’re in good health and have some free time this weekend, consider donating blood at your nearest donation point.

What is a blood transfusion?

When someone loses a lot of blood, or their body isn’t producing the necessary cells, they’ll need a blood transfusion. This is a simple procedure that transfers donated blood directly into the patient’s bloodstream.

Take a look at these statistics from Community Blood Services:

  • An accident victim may need up to 50 units of red blood cells.
  • A cancer patient may need up to 8 units of platelets a week.
  • An organ transplant recipient may need up to 40 units of red blood cells, 30 units of platelets, and 25 units of plasma.

In the skilled nursing world, our residents often need blood transfusions when they become severely anemic due to red blood cell deficiency.

Who can donate blood?

Age is not a factor in eligibility for blood donation. Here are the basic requirements for whole blood donation:

  • Donation frequency: every 56 days
  • You must be in good health and feeling well
  • You must be at least 16 years old
  • You must weigh at least 110 lbs
  • You’ve never had heptatitis

If you are elderly and would like to donate blood, okay it with your doctor first. If your doctor says it’s fine, go ahead and donate. There’s a good chance your recipient will be from your own age group.

Why should I donate blood?

Blood is the force of life. By donating blood, you are giving the most precious gift anyone can ever give someone else.

You can even save more than one life with one unit of blood. Many donations are separated into blood components—red blood cells, platelets, and plasma—so one unit can help three individuals.

Donating blood is a simple process that takes about an hour. This is how it looks:

  • Find a blood bank near you; there are many different blood collection services in New Jersey, with locations all over the state. You may need to make an appointment in advance, while most pop-up or mobile sites allow walk-ins.
  • Complete a pre-donation screening, which involves some questions about your health and lifestyle. All information will remain confidential.
  • Undergo a brief health exam to check your pulse, temperature, and blood pressure. A drop of blood from your finger will also be tested for adequate iron levels.
  • A professional lab worker will draw one unit of blood from your arm, using a blood donation kit. This will take about ten minutes.
  • Rest and eat some snacks until your strength returns and you can leave. After donating, it’s recommended you drink more fluids for the next day or two, avoid physical exertion or heavy lifting for a few hours, and eat well-balanced meals. You should also avoid smoking or drinking alcohol within a few hours of donating.

How can I help without donating blood?

If you can’t donate blood but you still want to help, you can. Volunteering at a blood drive can include assisting donors with registration, and serving refreshments after donation.

New Jersey Blood Services is currently looking for volunteers in New Jersey. Click here for more information.

Medicare Advantage Members Have Fewer ER Visits Than Original Medicare

We’ve talked about Medicare Advantage plans recently, and how they compare with Original Medicare. In those articles, we’ve talked about the benefits of each, and how to decide which one is right for you.

Here’s a compelling reason for choosing Medicare advantage: you have a lower chance of hospitalization and emergency room visits.

Health research firm Avalere Health published an interesting study this month about Medicare Advantage results as compared to Original Medicare.

Take a look at the key points:

  •  Medicare Advantage plans have more members with disabilities and chronic health conditions compared to Original Medicare.
  • Medicare Advantage plan members have a 57 percent higher rate of serious mental illness and 16 percent higher rate of substance abuse than Original Medicare.
  • Despite the above, Medicare Advantage members had 23 percent fewer hospital stays and 33 percent fewer ER visits than members of Original Medicare.

Part of the reason for this is that Medicare Advantage encourages preventative services and tests that Medicare sometimes doesn’t even pay for. While the study found MA members paid slightly more than Original Medicare members, their health outcomes were significantly better.

The study also found that Medicare Advantage outperformed Original Medicare in key areas. Their rate of potentially avoidable hospitalizations was 29 percent lower than Original Medicare’s, their overall hospitalization rate was lower, and they had higher rates of medical screenings and tests.

The widest gap was in outcomes for diabetics with both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Compared to Original Medicare, MA diabetics were half as likely to suffer complications. Their rate of serious complications was 73 percent lower as well.

Medicare Advantage accomplished this while keeping costs down—their spending average was 6 percent less than Original Medicare’s spending for members with the same conditions. In addition, member costs were 21 percent lower.

“Medicare Advantage plans’ focus on preventive care may help avoid downstream utilization of high-cost services driven by acute-care and emergency needs,” said Christie Teigland, vice president at Avalere.

While Medicare Advantage is not right for everyone, it’s clear that it offers some pretty big advantages for many of their members.

What You Should Know About Cholesterol

Cholesterol is associated most with heart attacks. High levels of cholesterol are a major risk factor for heart attack. But do you know what causes those high levels of cholesterol?

In this article, we’ll discuss what cholesterol is, why it’s bad for you—and sometimes good for you, and how to keep your levels in balance.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance similar in structure to fat. It’s main role is to help produce hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisone. It’s also involved in Vitamin D production.

Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs; it’s rare for cholesterol levels to sink too low. Too much cholesterol in the blood becomes a problem when it combines with other substances and forms plaque. The plaque can build up on the walls of your arteries, resulting in atherosclerosis—a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

There are three different types of cholesterol:

  • HDL—high-density lipoprotein. This is often called “good” cholesterol. It’s responsible for moving cholesterol from around your body back to your liver for digestion and elimination.
  • LDL—low-density lipoprotein. This is considered the “bad” cholesterol, because too much of it can cause the plaque build up in the arteries. In truth, LDL is only bad for you when the level of it in your blood blood becomes too high.
  • VLDL—very low-density lipoprotein. This is another form of “bad” LDL that carries triglycerides—fat cells—instead of cholesterol.

The goal is to keep your overall cholesterol levels down, and your HDL and LDLs in good balance.

There are no symptoms associated with high cholesterol. The only way to find out is with a routine blood test. Men 45 and older, and women 55 and older, should have their cholesterol levels checked every year or two.

What Causes High Cholesterol?

The most common cause of high cholesterol is unhealthy habits and lifestyle. Here are the top lifestyle causes of high cholesterol:

  • Eating a lot of saturated and trans fats. Foods that contain saturated fats are some red meats, dairy products, deep-fried foods, and processed foods. Trans fats are also found in deep-fried and processed foods. While some saturated fat is beneficial for your body, eating too much of it can dangerously raise your LDL cholesterol levels. Trans fats do not offer any benefit to your body at all, but can cause your cholesterol to shoot up.
  • Spending a lot of time sitting, with little exercise can lower HDL cholesterol levels.
  • Smoking not only lowers HDL levels, it also raises your LDL levels.

Some people also have a genetic propensity toward high cholesterol. People in that category need to watch their lifestyle even more than the general population.

How Can I Lower My Cholesterol?

Talk with your doctor about the best changes to make in your specific situation. Generally, you can begin with making some heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Overhaul your diet, start working out more, and manage your weight.

If lifestyle changes alone don’t lower your cholesterol enough, your doctor may put you on medication. The most common drugs for cholesterol are statins, which lower LDL levels and raise HDL. This helps prevent plaque from forming.

High cholesterol is common among older Americans, and we can all benefit from changing our diet and lifestyle to a more heart-healthy option. In my next post, we’ll explore one such option that experts say is the perfect diet for your heart.