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Ellen Nichols started dancing as soon as she could walk.
She leapt around the living room to her favourite songs and was never shy to grab a partner on the dance floor in her home state of Alabama.
After moving to Canada at age 21, Nichols was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a complex neurological disease that can affect vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. Thinking this was the end of her dancing days, Ellen gave up her passion.
Over the next 15 years, Nichols saw significant changes in her health — specifically the deterioration of her strength and balance. After she suffered a series of bone fractures and breaks from falls at home, her family grew uncomfortable with her living alone.
“I started to lose my independence and that scared me,” said Nichols, now 68. “I knew that I had to make a change.”
Nichols reached out to UHN’s Falls Prevention Clinic which aims to help individuals who have had multiple falls and are at risk of future falls.
The Clinic moved from Toronto Western to Toronto Rehab’s University Centre in April 2013 to align with the existing Geriatric Rehab Program. It targets 1,200 patients each year and offers a 12-week program to patients who can benefit from one-on-one training and counseling.
After undergoing health and geriatric assessments, Nichols was placed in the 12-week program. Now she meets with a small group each week for two hours – one hour is dedicated to education and one hour to exercise.
The education sessions focus on ways to prevent future falls, like the proper way to bend down and pick up items, while the exercise class teaches patients simple moves using chairs, resistance bands and their own body weight.
Aliza Neuhof, a physiotherapist at Toronto Rehab, teaches the class at Toronto Rehab’s University Centre and says the success of the program stems from innovative exercises and patients’ positive attitudes.
“All of the patients in the program are here because they want to be,” said Neuhof. “They show up every week determined to improve their condition, which makes my job even more rewarding.”
The program enabled Nichols to regain some of her balance and stability. After 11 weeks in the program — and at nearly 70 years of age — she dusted off her dancing shoes and rediscovered her passion for movement and music.
Nichols has already achieved levels 1 and 2 accreditation in ballroom and Latin dancing, and will try for tango in September 2013.
Nichols was also recently scouted by and signed with Toronto’s Max Agency.
“The Falls Prevention clinic has not only given me my movement back, but it’s given me the confidence I need to be a model and actor,” said Nichols.
Watch one of Ellen Nichols' recent performances
More information on Toronto Rehab’s Falls Prevention Clinic