Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

March 10, 2020

Aquatic Therapy and the Brain

By: Jessica DeLing

A recent study from the International Conference for Evidence Based Aquatic Therapy (ICEBAT) released a study about water and the brain! Here are a few key points that influence why we love aquatic therapy at C&FD!

  • Immersion in the water to the shoulders increases blood flow to the brain by 7%! We often accomplish this by floating in the deep end or standing/ working on skills at the side of the pool.
  • This increased blood flow further increases by another 7% by adding mild to moderate exercise! This totals a 14% increased blood flow to the brain! This can be accomplished by a fun game in shoulder deep water or an active warm up – moving back and forth across the pool!
  • Why is increased blood flow to the brain important? It often leads to increased cognitive skills, language skills, engagement and social skills – all seen in the aquatic environment.
  • Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that primarily works to speed up nerve signals in the central nervous system. It also assists in learning, memory, arousal and neuroplasticity. How does water effect this? It increases acetylcholine! This makes water a perfect environment to learn new motor skills or even attempt skills that haven’t been as successful on land.
  • Water immersion promotes neural plasticity and motor learning! The water helps to prep your child’s brain for more motor learning for up to four hours after aquatic therapy – a great time to play games, experiment with toys and participate in a home exercise program.
  • Serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, social behavior, memory and more) and dopamine (a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate movement, emotional responses and more) also increase in your child with water immersion. The pressure of the water plus the increased blood flow help your child focus and learn for the remainder of the session!
  • The buoyancy of water reduces proprioceptive feedback and creates a sensory conflict for your child. This stimulates the sensory system and contributes to improved balance and sensory awareness both in and out of the water.
  • Water immersion decreases blood pressure, decreases stress, increases relaxation and decreases the “fight or flight reaction.” This makes the water a perfect place to work on stressful things, or talk through stressful things and tackle them after the session!
  • The water is also a great place to work on social skills (as social skills can be stressful) since everyone is more relaxed!

These are all reasons why so many children (and therapists) love the water and are so successful in the aquatic environment!

If you are interested in getting aquatic therapy services for your child, please let us know! We will see you in the water!

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