Aquatic Therapy for Geriatric Patients
In upcoming decades therapists can expect to treat an increasing number of geriatric patients as the United States experiences the coming “boom” in older populations. One therapy that has proven beneficial for a range of deficits in this population is aquatic therapy.
From conversations with our clinical students we know that not all physical therapy and occupational therapy students will receive hands-on aquatic therapy experience prior to graduation. Student therapists interested in aquatic therapy should request internship locations with a therapy pool and seek access to mentors with aquatic therapy experience. If that’s not possible, the Aquatic Therapy University offers evidence-based courses on the subject.
RehabVisions therapist Ann Gross, PT lined up two clinical rotations at facilities with a therapy pool, receiving 16 weeks of hands-on experience in aquatic therapy. After graduation she was prepared to start at one of our skilled nursing facilities as the primary treating therapist for aquatic therapy and now offers in-services to the other therapy staff.
Ann finds aquatic therapy particularly exciting in the geriatric population because clinicians can do very similar things with patients in the pool as on land, but utilize the properties of water to ease or make more difficult the interventions. One deficit that is common to work in this population is balance deficits and using buoyancy, drag and turbulence to challenge their balance in different ways, depending on the skill level of the patient. Arthritis, gait abnormalities, total hip and knee replacements and many more diagnoses can also benefit from time in the water.
For occupational therapy, Ann finds there is a lot OTs can do in the water for shoulder pain, range of motion and activities of daily living. For example, have patients put on a variety of clothing items while in the pool. Dressing in a shirt, pants, socks, etc. in water is more difficult because of drag, but ultimately, as the patient practices in this harder environment the task becomes easier to complete as they move out of the pool.
Geriatric patients may perceive their therapy time in the pool as “more fun” than land-based functional activities because it is easier on their bodies to participate. At knee-deep in water, we only carry 75 percent of our weight. At waist-deep we carry 50 percent; chest-deep is 25 percent; and neck-deep only 10 percent of our body weight. This perk to aquatic therapy in combination with “fun” interventions can help patients stay motivated and engaged while in the pool.
Do you have tips to keep geriatric patients motivated with functional (but fun) activities? Or advice for future therapists interested in aquatic therapy? Post them in the comments section.
Ann Gross, PT has been the primary aquatic therapist at her SNF facility for three years. An advocate for continuing education, Ann shares her expertise with other disciplines during in-service trainings.