Assisted aquatic movement therapy may improve the mental health and stimulate the brains of children and adults with cerebral palsy (CP), according to a new study.
The study, “Effects Of Assisted Aquatic Movement And Horseback Riding Therapies On Emotion And Brain Activation In Patients With Cerebral Palsy,” was published in The Journal of Physical Therapy Science.
Previous studies have shown that assisted movement therapies decrease muscle stiffness and improve movement in CP patients, as well as bringing psychological benefits. But studies showing the relationship between therapeutic interventions and patients’ emotional and cognitive response to them are still lacking.
The study enrolled 32 right-handed CP patients, ages 8 to 48, to investigate the effect of assisted aquatic movement and horseback riding therapies on emotion and brain activation. Patients, representing CP disease stages from 1 to 3 (patients able to walk independently or with the help of a hand-held mobility device), were assigned to either the aquatic therapy group (AATG), the horseback riding group (HRTG), or a control group.
In AATG, patients performed warm-up exercises in a pool for 10 minutes, then did assisted exercises for 30 minutes (for instance, floating on the water in a sitting posture and walking backward and forward). The session closed with 10 minutes of simple, cool-down exercises.
HRTG was also 50 minutes long, consisting of warm-up exercises, a slow increase in speed then continued riding at a steady speed for 30 minutes, then a slow decrease in speed followed by a five-minute cool down.
Patients in the control group watched a movie for 50 minutes.
Researchers assessed patients before and after treatment using electroencephalograms (EEG), and scales that measured emotional reactions and perception.
Results showed that patients in the AATG had a significant improvement in positive emotions compared to the control group. AATG patients also showed increased brain activation compared to patients in the other two groups.
“[D]ata from the self-reported and psychophysiological measures provided evidence that assisted aquatic movement therapy helped to improve emotional feelings and mood states in patients with CP,” the researchers wrote. “These findings suggest that professionals in a therapeutic setting can consider assisted aquatic therapy as an effective intervention for the improvement of mental health and increased psychological wellness for these patients.
“Indeed, further studies need to explore the chronic effect of assisted aquatic therapy on emotional well-being, using a psychophysiological approach, while providing different types of exercises with various intensities and durations in an aquatic environment for individuals diagnosed with CP,” the team added.