Office of Research & Development

VA RESEARCH QUARTERLY UPDATE
This Issue: The Aging Veteran | Table of Contents: Summer 2018 | Download this issue

Ongoing & New Studies

Veterans aim to keep minds sharp by taking a dip in the pool


Researchers at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System are studying a water-based exercise program to help Veterans with mild memory loss. <em>(Photo for illustrative purposes only. @iStock/Fat Camera)</em>
Researchers at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System are studying a water-based exercise program to help Veterans with mild memory loss. (Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/Fat Camera)

Researchers at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System are studying a water-based exercise program to help Veterans with mild memory loss. (Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/Fat Camera)

Investigator: Jennifer Kaci Fairchild Ph.D.; Funding period: January 2016–December 2018

VA research psychologist Dr. Jennifer Fairchild is conducting a study that will examine the effects of water-based physical exercise and cognitive training for Veterans who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with memory loss. The study—Water-based Activities to Enhance Recall in Veterans, or WATER-Vet—is being conducted at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California.

The two-year clinical trial consists of two phases. Fifty Veterans ages 50 to 90 with amnestic MCI will participate in a six-month cardiovascular and strength-training program that consists of land-based stretching and a water-based exercise program. For the first two months, Veterans will attend group classes at the aquatic therapy center, three times a week. Thereafter, they will participate in a self-paced exercise program.

Following completion of the exercise portion of the trial, Veterans will take part in a cognitive training program that consists of mnemonic drills. During this period, they will complete several neuropsychological tasks that relate to attention, executive functioning, and memory.

Veterans with amnestic MCI are at greater risk of developing dementia as they age. Because current medical treatments are of limited value, researchers are keen on developing non-pharmacologic therapies to treat cognitive impairment. Physical therapy programs that include weight-bearing exercises have proven to improve thinking in patients with dementia. However, it is yet to be demonstrated that non-weight bearing activities like water therapy would provide the same benefit.

While objective data from the study are still pending, Fairchild says the Veterans who are taking part have so far provided lots of positive feedback. "Participants say that when they get in the water the pain just goes away," said Fairchild in an interview with Palo Alto Online. "We have guys with walkers jumping into the pool next to guys who run half-marathons, and they're able to exercise together."

*To find out more about Dr. Fairchild's study, read "Studies at Palo Alto VA investigate the exercise-brain connection."

*VIDEO: Watch four Veterans share their thoughts about participating in the WATER-Vet study.


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