In 1976, the employees of Children?s Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Seattle decided to build a pool for sick and disabled youngsters, and crank the water temperature up to a comfortable 93 degrees. For an hour a day, the little patients were given a chance to do something they?d always wanted: Be kids again.
What the employees created became more than the hospital ever anticipated one of the nation?s first therapy pools. Cardiac patients and cystic fibrosis patients found swimming to be a beneficial, low-impact exercise. Psychiatric patients built skills and positive interactions within the warm water. The hospital soon added mobility swims, patient programming, family swim time, lessons and community adult programs. Approximately five years ago, an award-winning, adapted-aquatics program was implemented.
?We?ve seen a lot more referrals and the pain management team is referring a lot more kids,? said Kathy Bateman, therapy pool program supervisor at the hospital.
That?s because hospitals and wellness centers are recognizing the benefits of therapy in warm water. Making a patient light and buoyant while moving against water creates new levels of endurance and strength without gravity causing stress and pain. As baby boomers hit middle age and look for ways to recover from their still active lifestyles, aquatic therapy will only continue to grow in demand, according to experts.
Designers have already seen the spike in demand. ?The past few years have seen a marked increase in the construction of therapeutic pools,? said Randy Mendioroz, principal of the Aquatic Design Group in Carlsbad, Calif.
?More and more debilitated [people] are coming to the pool,? said Ruth Sova, founder of Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute, Inc. in Port Washington, Wis. ?There are some good things that happen to a body as a result of immersion.?
Sova also has seen an increase in actual therapy pools as opposed to placing patients in traditional pools. Designs include ramps for wheelchairs, railings and bars for patrons to hold, and a variation of depths for shallow to deep water training.
Designers note the same trend. ?Historically you?ll go into a hospital and they?ll have water therapy baths, which were dedicated stainless steel containers. They would do their exercises in that little vat of water,? said Treadwell Jones, aquatics manager at Larkin Aquatics in Kansas City, Mo. ?Now aquatic therapy has come about where ? you work with different parts of the pool.?
Other hospitals and care centers have caught on. Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn., has a 75-by-25-foot pool, with a special bench for those who need to sit during exercise. Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru, Ill., boasts a state-of-the-art 1,500-square- foot warm-water pool with hydrotherapy jet benches, massage, a deep well and underwater exercise equipment.
Still, some aquatic therapists said they have a hard time making others understand the difference between a pool and a therapy pool.
?[Therapy pools] are becoming more handicapped-accessible, but there are a lot of barriers that still need to be overcome,? said Tera Galloway, aquatic trainer with Rehab Focus in Owosso, Mich. ?Depth, temperature and equipment are the three primary things we look at. You?re creating an environment that fosters inclusion.?