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The Mental Health of People with Disabilities

February 26, 2024

Adults with disabilities report experiencing frequent mental distress almost 5 times as often as adults without disabilities.  Call your doctor if your mental health gets in the way of your daily activities for at least 14 days in a month.

December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. In the United States, up to 1 in 4 adults have a disability. Many people will experience a disability at some point during their lives. Disabilities limit how a child or adult functions. These limitations may include difficulty walking or climbing stairs; hearing; seeing; or concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.

Although “people with disabilities” sometimes refers to a single population, this is a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs. Two people with the same type of disability can be affected in very different ways. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see.

Many Adults with Disabilities Report Frequent Mental Distress

A CDC study found that adults with disabilities report experiencing more mental distress than those without disabilities.1 In 2018, an estimated 17.4 million (32.9%) adults with disabilities experienced frequent mental distress, defined as 14 or more reported mentally unhealthy days in the past 30 days. Frequent mental distress is associated with poor health behaviors, increased use of health services, mental disorders, chronic disease, and limitations in daily life.1

During the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, disconnect, disrupted routines, and diminished health services greatly impacted the lives and mental well-being of people with disabilities.2

Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row. Free and confidential resources can also help you or a loved one connect with a skilled, trained counselor in your area.

It’s Okay Not to Feel Okay

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to stressful situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can depend on your background, your support systems (e.g., family or friends), your financial situation, your health and emotional background, the community you live in, and many other factors.

People with disabilities or developmental delays may respond strongly to the stress of a crisis, particularly if they are also at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses (for example, older people and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions).

How Are You Feeling?

We are often asked this question, and many of us say we’re “fine.” But this has been a difficult time lately, and emotions can be complex. You may be feeling sad, worried, or stressed.

It helps to stay positive and remind yourself of your strengths. Visit How Right Now for inspiration and resources to find what helps.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

  • Know what to do if you are sick and are concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health provider before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
  • Know where and how to get mental health treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services).
  • Take care of your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.  During times of increased social distancing, people can still maintain social connections and care for their mental health. Phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel socially connected, less lonely, or isolated.
  • Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.
  • Improving the Mental Health of People with Disabilities
  • CDC provides funding for two National Centers on Disability that focus on improving the quality of life for people living with disabilities.
  • Special Olympics’ Inclusive Health programming focuses on improving the physical and social-emotional well-being of people with intellectual disabilities by increasing inclusion in health care, wellness, and health systems for Special Olympics athletes and others with intellectual disabilities.
  • “I learned relaxation techniques and now always try these when I find myself overwhelmed. I would recommend these strategies to others, too. A strong mind is an important part to a happy body,” shares Kayte Barton, a Special Olympics athlete from Minnesota.  Barton was a part of the Special Olympics committee to help develop emotional health programming for Special Olympics athletes across the world in its flagship Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program.
  • Special Olympics’ Strong Mindfulness program offers free, 1-hour mindfulness sessions for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Participants learn deep breathing techniques, body awareness and progressive muscle relaxation, mindful movement, and guided meditation. They also receive a Strong Minds Activity Guide designed to help them develop their coping skills in everyday life.
  • The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) seeks to help people with disabilities and other chronic health conditions achieve health benefits through increased participation in all types of physical and social activities. NCHPAD’s M.E.N.T.O.R program, which stands for Mindfulness, Exercise and Nutrition to Optimize Recovery, takes a holistic approach to restoring, improving, and protecting health. The program divides health into three domains: physical, mental, and emotional.  Through this program, people who have acquired a new disability (e.g., spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury), a new diagnosis (e.g., multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease), or have a congenital condition (e.g., cerebral palsy, spina bifida) learn the many ways life can be enhanced through health and wellness activities.

Disability and Mental Health Resources

As CDC honors International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we ask that you join us in being a part of the global movement to change attitudes toward, and promote the inclusion of, people with disabilities.

To learn more, please visit

Safer Food Choices for Adults 65 and Over

February 22, 2024

Help Prevent Food Poisoning

Older adults have a higher risk of getting sick from food poisoning and having a more serious illness.

To prevent food poisoning, some foods are safer choices than others. That’s because some foods—such as undercooked meat and eggs, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and unpasteurized milk — are more often associated with foodborne illnesses. Use the table below as a guide to safer food choices.

To learn more, please visit

Older Adult Drivers

February 12, 2024

In 2020, there were almost 48 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the United States. This is a 68% increase since 2000.

Driving helps older adults stay mobile and independent. But the risk of being injured or killed in a traffic crash increases as people age. Thankfully, older adults can take steps to stay safer on the roads.

Thousands of older adults are injured or killed in the United States every year in traffic crashes.

In 2020, about 7,500 older adults were killed in traffic crashes, and almost 200,000 were treated in emergency departments for crash injuries. This means that each day, 20 older adults are killed and almost 540 are injured in crashes.

Age, gender, and age-related changes are major risk factors
  • Drivers aged 70+ have higher crash death rates per 1,000 crashes than middle-aged drivers (aged 35-54). Higher crash death rates among this age group are primarily due to increased vulnerability to injury in a crash.
  • Across all age groups, males have substantially higher crash death rates than females.
  • Age-related changes in vision, physical functioning, and the ability to reason and remember, as well as some diseases and medications, might affect some older adults’ driving abilities.
Key steps to staying safe on the roads
  • The good news is that older adults are more likely to have safer driving behaviors than other age groups.
  • Taking these key steps can help adults of all ages, including older adults, stay safe on the road:
  • Always wear a seat belt as a driver or passenger
    Seat belt use is one of the most effective ways to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes.
  • Drive when conditions are safest
    Drive during daylight and in good weather. Conditions such as poor weather and driving at night increase the likelihood of crash injuries and deaths.
  • Don’t drink and drive
    Drinking and driving increases the risk of being in a crash because alcohol reduces coordination and impairs judgment.
Additional steps to stay safe on the road
  • Use CDC’s MyMobility Plan, a plan to stay mobile and independent as you age.
  • Follow a regular activity program to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review medicines—both prescription and over-the counter—to reduce side effects and interactions. Read the Are Your Medicines Increasing Your Risk of a Fall or a Car Crash fact sheet to learn more.
  • Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
  • Plan your route before you drive.
  • Find the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left-turn signals, and easy parking.
  • Leave a large following distance between your car and the car in front of you.
  • Avoid distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking or texting on your phone, and eating.
  • Consider potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend, using ride share services, or taking public transit.

To learn more, please visit

Adding Physical Activity as an Older Adult

February 7, 2024

Adults 65 and older need a mix of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and balance activities each week to keep their bodies strong. Regular physical activity can help you live independently, have a better quality of life, and prevent or manage chronic disease.

It’s never too late to start being physically active! Pick activities you enjoy and that match your abilities. This will help ensure that you stick with them.

Tips for Being Physically Active

  • Try to do a variety of activities. This can make physical activity more enjoyable and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Even if it’s hard to do some types of activities such as climbing stairs or walking, you can safely do other types of physical activity. Try airplane stretches [PDF-2.9MB] and chair [PDF-2.9MB] or desk exercises [PDF-1.3MB].
  • Lots of activities count, even things like mowing the lawn or carrying groceries, and it all adds up. Find what works for you.
  • If you take a break from your regular activity due to an illness or travel, start again at a lower level and slowly work back up to your usual level of activity.
  • If it is too hot, cold, or wet to be outside, try walking in a mall or look for an online fitness program you can do at home.
  • If losing weight is your goal, you may need to reduce the number of calories you eat and do more than the recommended amounts of physical activity.

Recommended Weekly Physical Activity

Every week, adults 65 and older need physical activities that include:

  • At least 150 minutes (for example, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking. Or you need 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as hiking, jogging, or running.
  • At least 2 days of activities that strengthen muscles.
  • Activities to improve balance such as standing on one foot.

See examples of how to fit this into a week.

What if You Have a Chronic Condition?

If you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, it doesn’t mean you can’t be active. Regular physical activity can improve your quality of life and even reduce your risk of developing other conditions.

Ask your doctor if your health condition limits your ability to be active in any way. Then, work with your doctor to come up with a physical activity plan that matches your abilities.

If your condition stops you from meeting the minimum recommended activity levels, try to do as much as you can. What’s important is that you avoid being inactive.

What if You Have a Disability?

Regular physical activity provides people with disabilities  important health benefits, like a stronger heart, lungs, and muscles; improved brain health; and a better ability to do everyday tasks. Talk with your doctor before you begin a physical activity routine. A professional with experience in physical activity and disabilities can tell you more about the amounts and types of physical activity appropriate for you.

Other Reasons to Check With Your Doctor

Doing physical activity that requires moderate effort is safe for most people. But if you have been inactive, are not too fit, or are overweight, and want to do vigorous-intensity physical activity, such as jogging, it is safest to discuss this with your doctor.

To learn more, please visit