Effect of Water Immersion on Dual-task Performance: Implications for Aquatic Therapy

Sydney Y. Schaefer, Talin J. Louder, Shayla Foster, Eadric Bressel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background and purpose: Much is known about cardiovascular and biomechanical responses to exercise during water immersion, yet an understanding of the higher-order neural responses to water immersion is unclear. The purpose of this study was to compare cognitive and motor performance between land and water environments using a dual-task paradigm, which served as an indirect measure of cortical processing. Design: A quasi-experimental crossover research design is used. Methods: Twenty-two healthy participants (age = 24.3 ± 5.24 years) and a single-case patient (age = 73) with mild cognitive impairment performed a cognitive (auditory vigilance) and motor (standing balance) task separately (single-task condition) and simultaneously (dual-task condition) on land and in chest-deep water. Listening errors from the auditory vigilance task and centre of pressure (CoP) area for the balance task measured cognitive and motor performance, respectively. Results: Listening errors for the single-task and dual-task conditions were 42% and 45% lower for the water than land condition, respectively (effect size [ES] = 0.38 and 0.55). CoP area for the single-task and dual-task conditions, however, were 115% and 164% lower on land than in water, respectively, and were lower (≈8–33%) when balancing concurrently with the auditory vigilance task compared with balancing alone, regardless of environment (ES = 0.23–1.7). This trend was consistent for the single-case patient. Conclusion: Participants tended to make fewer ‘cognitive’ errors while immersed chest-deep in water than on land. These same participants also tended to display less postural sway under dual-task conditions, but more in water than on land.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-154
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiotherapy Research International
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • aquatic therapy
  • brain activity
  • hydrotherapy
  • postural sway
  • rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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