The Aquatic Therapy and Rehabilitation Institute in Florida defines Aquatic Therapy as the "use of water and specifically designed activity by qualified personnel to aid in the restoration, extension, maintenance and quality of function for persons with acute, transient, or chronic disabilities, syndromes or diseases."
This type of therapy has been used for a variety of neurological and musculoskeletal conditions, including balance disorders, post-stroke effects, Parkinson’s disease, brain injuries, arthritis and dementia.
Being in water assists individuals in strengthening the entire body with low impact and gentle movement. This type therapy can improve joint function, improve motor coordination and balance, and, generally, can improve independence in activities of daily living.
Recreational therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, exercise physiologists and massage practitioners are among the many health care disciplines that offer this type of therapy.
A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Nottingham and the Institute of Mental Health in the UK found that swimming sessions were beneficial to people with dementia and their caregivers.
Tom Dening, a professor of dementia research, said the "study suggests there is huge potential for these specially organized swimming sessions to improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their caregivers. Swimming, in particular, can improve fitness with less strain on joints compared to land-based exercise. Swimming sessions reduced the sense of responsibility felt by caregivers, providing them with their own support network and the opportunity to have a break from caring, in the company of others in similar circumstances. The swimming itself was enjoyable for everyone and provided people with dementia the chance to exercise as well as giving them confidence and empowering them."
Additionally, the study found that swimming helped calm common behaviors, such as restlessness, agitation and pacing, and provided an outlet for the individual's physical energy.
Those with Alzheimer’s and dementia need to be thoroughly screened and physician-approved before undertaking any aquatic therapy program.
People who have always feared water or have a fever or infection should not attempt the therapy, as well as those with ancillary diseases such as cardiovascular disease or open wounds. Individuals who are experiencing incontinence can enjoy aquatic therapy if they are toileted prior to entering the pool and are provided with commercially available incontinence swim briefs.
Aquatic therapy has been shown to help people with Alzheimer's by elevating their moods, enhancing the quality of life and promoting a sense of purpose.
While it is still unclear why aquatic therapy is so beneficial, there is speculation that this type of environment may recalibrate sensory input because being immersed in water decreases weight-bearing sensory information and requires less effort to balance. This, in turn, enables a more enhanced focus on cognitive skills. Further studies are needed to realize the full potential of aquatic therapy for affected individuals.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.