Overcoming Barriers of Getting Senior Patients in the Pool

One of the keys to staying healthy as you age is engaging in regular, low-impact activity that keeps your muscles strong, your lungs healthy and your mind engaged. Warm water therapy pools are ideal for this type of exercise for the aging population. The buoyancy of water allows for greater mobility in a pool than out of it. An older adult who struggles to walk on dry land may be much more mobile in the pool, fostering confidence and allowing for the independence so many older adults crave as their bodies age.

Water exercise, balance activities, water aerobics and swimming can promote senior wellness in other ways, helping to:


posture-iconImprove Posturetension-iconDecrease tension in the muscles
fight-obesity-iconFight obesityflexibility-iconIncrease flexibility
brain-icon-balanceDevelop better balancebrain-icon-painReduce pain
joint-pain-iconLower the risk for osteoporosissleep-iconImprove sleep





Perhaps most importantly for seniors, the pool provides a great place for the sort of physical therapy so many older adults need. Warm water therapy can be an extremely beneficial way to help someone rehab from a joint replacement surgery, injury or chronic disease. Pressure on the joints is relieved in the water and people who suffer from conditions like Osteoarthritis find that movements that pain them on dry land can be performed easily in the pool. Resistance therapy jets offer massage treatment to keep senior patients limber. Underwater treadmills help clinicians teach older patients proper gait and correct biomechanics for underwater walking and running.

At 85 years old, Scotty Swanson suffers from general chronic pain and stiffness. He now regularly works out in a HydroWorx pool at the Summit Place Senior Campus. Since he started working out in the pool, Scotty experiences less pain while doing his daily activities:


The Problem: Getting into a pool can be frightening and difficult for those with mobility problems. Depending on the facility, the patient may have to climb down stairs without a handrail or simply just a ladder.

Possible Solutions:

Offer aquatic therapy in an easily accessible water environment. Typical ways to offer this include:

  • Adding a chair lift to the side of the pool, which allows the patient to sit or be transferred onto the chair and then safely lowered into the pool.
  • Including a gradual-entry pool or ramp, which allows patients and residents to enter and exit the pool comfortably without the use of steps or a ladder.
  • Offering technology such as a moveable floor that raises to be level with the pool floor and then can be lowered to any depth necessary.

Fear of Water

The Problem: Getting into a pool can be frightening and difficult for those with mobility problems. Depending on the facility, the patient may have to climb down stairs without a handrail or simply just a ladder.

Possible Solutions:

Offer aquatic therapy in an easily accessible water environment. Typical ways to offer this include:

  • Provide a swimming class to potential patients to get them comfortable in the water.
  • Ensure that a clinician will be in the water with the patient to alleviate fears of being left to their own devices.
  • Have a potential patient come watch a session with others, to show them that swimming is not required.
  • Offer shallow depth areas in the pool, or if your pool has a moveable floor retain the patient at a shallow, more comfortable depth that is less intimidating for beginners.

Fear of Overexertion or Not Being Able to do the Exercises

The Problem: After years of eschewing a fitness program, it’s hard to get started.

It’s important to be empathetic to concerns about whether your patient is capable of completing the fitness, therapy or workout program you have prescribed. Many seniors mistakenly believe they are not capable of working out.

While they may not be up to pumping iron at the gym, pool workouts are a gentle, low-impact exercise they will be able to keep up with easily. It’s best to address any concerns head-on.

Possible Solutions

  • Start with private sessions with an experienced aquatic therapist or instructor rather than public classes.
  • Offer aquatic therapy open houses or trial sessions so that patients can try something without commitment. Be sure to make attending the session easy and accessible.
  • Demonstrate any activities that might take place during a therapy or exercise session and identify areas of concern. This is especially true for new technologies or equipment such as an underwater treadmill, water dumbbells, etc. Their knowledge of the land versions may skew their understanding of how they work in the water.
  • Offer multiple levels of classes or sessions from beginners to advanced and match individual’s abilities when possible.
  • Be clear about what a session or class will entail, by including the information in the title, such as “Water Walking 101” or “Balance Training Using Resistance.”

Misperceptions About Water Therapy

The Problem: Patients are not convinced that aquatic therapy will help their ailments.

It’s true that when your patient was growing up, education regarding the benefits of pools for therapy and exercise was not widely available. The pool was a place to play and splash and dive and that may not sound at all appealing to someone who struggles to move around on dry land, much less exercise in a pool.

Additionally, they may have had an experience with land physical therapy that left them sore, uncomfortable and frustrated.

Possible Solutions

  • Offer easy-to-read literature, research and videos that explain the benefits of aquatic therapy and pool workouts.
  • Have patients and participants that have seen success provide testimonials and talk to others who are considering joining.
  • Offer trial sessions for patients or residents to feel the benefits first-hand.
  • Make sure that local physicians and surgeons are aware of the services you offer, so that they prescribe the therapy for their patients. This will make it perceived much more highly.

Discomfort in Swimming Gear

The Problem: Uncomfortable or immodest swimming attire

Many women and men dislike putting on bathing suits, especially when they’ve gotten older and their bodies aren’t the same as they used to be.

Possible Solutions:

  • Research apparel companies that specialize in senior living aquatics and help the patient find bathing suits or outfits that match up with their needs and wants. These days it has become more common to find clothing that is “dry-fit” and more comfortable for water use, if bathing suits are difficult to get into.
  • Provide bathing gear, cover-ups, slippers, towels and shower caps in a personal bag for each participant to increase willingness to join.