It was a series of face plants that got Ruth Snider worried.
“I would trip over almost nothing,” she said. “The worst was when I did it on the driveway, which is gravel.”
The 65-year-old resident of the village of Ennismore, Ont., was lucky. She avoided serious injuries. But she kept falling and knew it was a matter of time before she did real damage.
She said she thought to herself that her situation was getting bad — and knew she needed to do something.
“I need to have control.”
Help can be especially hard to find for seniors in rural Canada. Programs and services are more difficult and expensive to deliver outside of major population centres.
But Snider, who lives in an area with a relatively high number of seniors, was lucky again.
Ennismore, a small community not far from Peterborough, was selected for an innovative, experimental program designed to keep rural seniors on their feet and in their homes.
For weeks, a group of active seniors was given specialized training with instructors from Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. The instructors never leave the school’s headquarters in Toronto, but show up in a live streaming exercise class that teaches ballet techniques and other dance moves.
The ultimate goal is to increase strength while restoring balance and confidence for seniors who could easily be isolated.
“I have no doubt that dance for older adults can save lives,” said Rachel Bar, Manager of Health and Research Initiatives at the school.
“I have seen it.”
There is ample, published research that indicates dance programs can help people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. This experiment, involving the Trent Centre for Aging and Society and the Baycrest Health Sciences Centre, is examining whether a remotely delivered dance program can reduce the frequency and risk of falls in rural seniors.
The first step was Snider’s class — to see whether live streaming, which is an inexpensive way to reach out to people in rural areas — would get seniors moving.
“We were not sure if technology was a barrier for this crowd,” said Bar. It clearly wasn’t.
At a recent class, the seniors followed the instructors on a video monitor, enthusiastically mimicking the moves on the screen for the hour-long class. They pushed themselves to complete exercises, the workout demanding but completed with plenty of good humour and wisecracks from the seniors.
Snider, tired but cheerful after class, had no complaints.
“I’m doing much better,” she said. “I have much more control over my…