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Seniors: Benefits of Aquatic Therapy

By now, everyone knows that regular exercise is crucial to maintaining good health and well-being as we age. Numerous studies show that seniors who make physical activity part of their weekly routine are both healthier and happier. And what’s not to love? Exercise prevents disease, improves mental health, decreases falls, provides social engagement, and increases cognitive function.

This latter benefit is especially significant if you or your loved one has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. The benefits of general physical exercise to brain health are well documented, but seniors living with dementia have shown great improvement in several key areas thanks to aquatic therapy.

Aquatic therapy provides all of the usual benefits of a good workout, but participants also experience improved joint function, range of motion, balance, and motor coordination, all of which contribute to quality of life and maintaining independence.

Here are five ways Florida seniors with dementia may benefit from aquatic therapy.

Cognitive Function

Studies are showing that aquatic therapy can stimulate cognitive function in patients with dementia to the extent that they are able to engage in activities while in the water that they are unable to on land. 

Circulation

Aquatic therapy normally takes place in a warm pool heated to between 83 and 88 degrees. This sufficiently raises body temperature, causing blood vessels to dilate and increase circulation. 

The benefits of increased circulation include a drop in blood pressure and pulse rate, improved circulation in the hands and feet, relaxed muscles, released toxins that can then be removed from the body, and more pliable and stretchable tissue. 

Increasing circulation also means more blood flowing to the brain, which studies are showing may improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s.

Balance

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 Americans 65 or older experiences a fall each year, resulting in 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually. 

Aquatic therapy can help seniors improve their balance using the resistive property of water to build muscle and strength. This helps reduce the risk of falls so that seniors can maintain their independence for longer and participate in daily activities more safely. 

Emotional Well-Being

People with dementia often experience high levels of anxiety, which can make the symptoms of dementia worse. 

Aquatic therapy is gentle, soothing, and relaxing, and like most forms of exercise, it causes the body to release endorphins. These feel-good hormones help seniors with dementia experience reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep quality, improved appetite, and increased feelings of well-being.

Heart Health

Aquatic therapy is designed to be gentle, but it still raises the heart rate and improves cardiovascular health. Training the heart and lungs to use oxygen more efficiently builds strong heart muscles and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 million people worldwide have dementia, with at least 10 million new cases reported annually. Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia can be scary for both the person receiving the diagnosis and their loved ones.

Studies show that seniors experience many physical and mental health benefits from regular exercise, but seniors with dementia may find aquatic therapy particularly beneficial. (Don’t forget to check with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.)

Warm water aquatic therapy can reduce anxiety, increase cognitive function, and improve balance as well as provide many heart health benefits to help seniors with dementia live more independently for longer and more safely.

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Teresa Keating, RN

About the Author: Teresa Keating, RN

Teresa is a registered nurse with 30 years’ experience working with the senior population in England, Tennessee and Florida. Originally from Weymouth, Dorset, England she has been involved in all areas of healthcare in a post-acute care setting including hospitals, rehabilitation and home health. Her experience includes being a business owner, marketing director and a director of nursing. Teresa is married to Gary for over 20 years and has two children.