Category Archives: Global

It is crucial to know how societies view and treat older adults. This category compares continents and regions, including countries in different continents. The goal is to identify and examine the challenges and opportunities of population aging across cultures.

The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, written by Judith N. Lasker, shines light on healthcare-based volunteering in developing contexts. While it does not explicitly focus on aging, this book poses a bold and poignant question: Does international medical volunteering really help patients?

Developing countries struggle with both acute diseases such as malaria that are less prevalent in developed countries, as well as many of the same chronic diseases, such as diabetes, that routinely affect people in nations like the United States. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases, which often impact older adults, are the leading cause of death or disability in the world. Many medical professionals who volunteer abroad often end up treating patients with such chronic diseases.

For example, International Volunteer HQ – a large volunteer-host connection service – offers North American medical tourists the opportunity to work with older adults in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and Zambia. Another NGO, UBELONG, offers short term volunteer trips to Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Peru. Other programs, such as the volunteer surgeons who perform cataract operations, also target diseases that primarily impact older adults.

In Hoping to Help, Lasker investigates the impact of global medical volunteerism on patient health. She finds little evidence that global medical volunteer trips are actually helpful to the patients:

  • Lasker points out that most trips have no follow-up. Thus it is impossible to determine whether the patient benefited from medical care.
  • Most trips do not provide long-term solutions to chronic diseases; many individuals were prescribed medication –for example, blood pressure – without having access to a sustainable supply of the medicine. Once the volunteer leaves, the patient may become worse. Even a seemingly innocuous treatment, such as medication to reduce hypertension, can lead to a rebound hypertensive effect.
  • Finally, volunteer medical students or nurses will often conduct procedures or give treatment that is outside their scope of practice in their home countries.

The positive or negative effect on the health of patients treated by these practitioners are not well known, but it is safe to say that the impacts of global health volunteering are not all positive. There are many debates about the possible good or harm international medical volunteers can do to host communities – while some have compared the practice to colonialism, others have defended the noble intentions of these programs. What this debate leaves out, however, is the patient’s version of the story.

For individuals who wish to volunteer and contribute to aging in developing nations, Lasker’s book serves as a useful guide. She clearly delineates the positives and negatives of the programs. Volunteering is one way to help aging individuals in developing countries, but an investment in infrastructure development in the health sector will have a more meaningful, long-term, and sustainable impact.

Grace Mandel is a project manager for the Baltimore Fall Reduction Initiative Engaging Neighborhoods and Data (B’FRIEND) at the Baltimore City Department of Health.

Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other

Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT who views artificial intelligence and technology through a sociological and psychological lens. In the first half of her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other,  Turkle addresses the impact of technology on older adults. Technology advances such as robotics and assistive technology are making headway in society, especially in elder care. These new technologies can provide some comfort or care for older adults with chronic diseases. Turkle’s focus, however, is on the substitution of robots for human interaction and the emotional aspect of care performed by another human being.

Turkle conducts experiments where she brings different types of robotic technology such as AIBO, My Real Baby, and Paro the Seal into nursing homes. These robotics provide companionship and not practical assistance. For instance, many older adults began speaking to their robots, going over important life events and reminiscing about old times. They found that spending time with the robot reduces anxiety and isolation. The impact of My Real Baby, an “interactive learning doll”, was particularly significant in experiments because it gave older adults a sense of purpose. The My Real Baby doll needed comfort, changing, and other activities that made older adults feel needed (105). This promotes higher quality of life for older people.

Turkle also conducts research involving children, where children discuss the role of robotic technology in their lives. The children profiled in the book worry about technology replacing real human interaction. One child says, “that grandparents might love the robot more than you… They would be around the robot so much more.” (75). Another child worries “that if a robot came in that could help her [grandmother] with falls, then she might really want it… she might like it more than me.” (75). In her discussion of experiments conducted in nursing homes with the doll, My Real Baby, Turkle finds that older adults do not want to give the doll back at the end of the experiment (111). One grandmother even ignores her grandchild who is visiting to take care of the hungry doll (118).

What Turkle does best in this book sharply contrasts the ideal situation of having loving children or family who can visit and provide social interaction to the reality of isolation in many older adults. While Turkle acknowledges the barriers to artificial intelligence and technology as companionship for older adults, they surpass the alternative of no social interaction at all. She notes, “If the elderly are tended by underpaid workers who seem to do their jobs by rote, it is not difficult to warm to the idea of a robot orderly”. (p. 107).  She then points out that when given the choice between interacting with robots and interacting with a member of the research team, almost all of the older adults chose a member of the research team (p. 105). At the end of the day, these robots are not capable of producing the same amount of interaction and support as a human being. Turkle muses, “An older person seems content; a child feels less guilty. But in the long term, do we want to make it easier for children to leave their parents? Does the ‘feel-good moment’ provided by the robot deceive people into feeling less need to visit?” (p. 125). Robots providing clinical care may be an ideal solution to the shortage of workers caring for an aging population, but are no replacement for social interaction.

Grace Mandel is the project manager for the Baltimore Fall Reduction Initiative Engaging Neighborhoods and Data (BFRIEND) at the Baltimore City Department of Health.

Addiction in Older Adults: Prevalence, Effects and Solutions

Is an addict a teenager using heroin? Or a young adult drinking excessive amounts of alcohol? Recent studies challenge these assumptions. 20 to 30 percent of adults between 75 and 85 years of age have had problems with alcohol consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also found that 3.6 percent of 60- to 64-year-olds have used illegal drugs. Between 2006 and 2012, the number of older adults who sought emergency treatment for improper drug use jumped to 78 percent.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Substance abuse can exacerbate other pre-existing conditions, including dementia, which in turn could lead seniors to use too much or too little of their prescriptions or forget to take them entirely. Confusion could also prompt people to mix substances and prescription drugs, which can produce dangerous results. Additionally, ageing bodies do not process alcohol and drugs the same way that younger bodies do. Seniors could become drunk, high, or impaired faster than younger people who consume the same amount of intoxicants. This could lead to a greater risk of health problems, injuries such as falls, and addiction.

There are many different reasons why older adults become substance-dependent. Many seniors use alcohol or drugs to cope with life changes such as divorce, retirement, or death of a loved one. For others it is a residual habit from when they were younger; adults who experimented with substances in the past could continue to use drugs and alcohol for recreational purposes, without realizing the risk of addiction increases with age. The long-term use of pain medication to treat other conditions is also likely to turn into a substance addiction if not monitored carefully.

Fortunately, the recognition of this issue brings a plethora of rehabilitation solutions specifically catering to older adults. Seniors can now pursue addiction treatment in the company of their peers. In fact there are rehab programs and facilities especially for older adults, including programs that provide alternative medications as they wean patients off prescription painkillers. Some doctors recommend alternating prescription and nonprescription drugs to treat pain.

Acknowledging addictive behaviors and substance abuse among seniors is the first step to recovery. As these issues garner national attention, society is likely to see the development of more and more innovative solutions to help prevent seniors from becoming unduly addicted to harmful substances.

Pam Zuber is an editor and writer on many topics such as addiction, recovery, biology and psychology. She is particularly interested in topics that relate to achieving and maintaining good health. Zuber has written for various treatment centers including Elite Rehab Placement, Monarch Shores and Willow Springs Recovery.

A Brief Highlight of Older Athletes at the Summer Olympic Games

Photo Credit: GCSC
Photo Credit: GCSC

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are almost here. Starting next week, athletes from around the world will perform amazing feats including older Olympians who are generally not reported in traditional media. Older athletes have always participated in the games. For example, Brazil’s 2016 Olympic qualifying tournaments had many athletes in their 30’s and a few well into their 40’s. This article will focus on older athletes with the hope that it inspires readers and challenges aging stereotypes.

There are many examples of older athletes to celebrate. In the 2012 Olympics, a 101-year-old marathon runner Fauja Signh carried the Olympic torch. Also in 2012, Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan was a member of the Equestrian team at age 71. There is also the Senior Olympics – a biennial sports competition for adults aged 50+ – where the average age at the 2015 competition was 68 years old. As Global Health Aging states, “…the process of growing old is unique to each person.” Some people have loss of mobility or cognitive function… and some compete in the Olympics.

Athletes who have staying power lurk within many country teams. For instance, Robert Schedit, a 43-year-old member of Brazil’s sailing team, will compete in his sixth Olympic games! His first Olympics was the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, USA. Close behind him is Murilo Antonio Fischer who will compete in his fifth Olympic games at age 37. Fischer, a member of Brazil’s road cycling team, first participated in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Competing in athletic events or getting up to exercise are in part based on psychology and willpower. My investigation into the Olympics has shown a new narrative, that individuals of all ages succeed in competitive athletics. These sports in addition to regular daily exercise are attainable. Hence society has to redefine expectations as it is possible to be a great athlete well into old age. And for those who do not wish to run a 5 minute mile, any kind of exercise is important!

Grace Mandel covers South America for Global Health Aging. She is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Why Society Needs More Older Social Entrepreneurs for Culture Change

Social entrepreneurship – or business solutions to social issues – has evolved to be the big billion dollar idea over the last three decades. And it is here to stay. Both the developed as well as the developing world, public and philanthropic sectors are pushing for impact investing, and market-based solutions to the most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Photo Credit: Bill Bentley
                                                                                       Photo Credit: Bill Bentley

While this sector is currently a big draw for younger populations, it also holds immense potential for older adults. The number of older persons (aged 60 years or over) is expected to more than double from 841 million people in 2013 to more than 2 billion in 2050. Yet, this market remains virtually untapped by most social businesses. Additionally, there are very few seniors involved in building start-up companies that will change the world.

An interesting study by the Stanford Social Innovation Review explains why society requires older social entrepreneurs, especially those catering to senior needs. One reason is the fact that majority of social enterprises tend to rely on finding “solutions” to eradicate problems. Whereas any social enterprise providing for older people needs to be oriented towards improving how care is delivered. And who better to improve senior care than older adults themselves?

There are also a number of other reasons why social enterprises and start-ups are rarely inclusive of the ageing population. This includes:

  • False Perception of Need: There is a perception that older adults – given their many years in the workforce – do not need the services of social enterprises. However, a large number of older adults are indeed vulnerable to environmental and social shocks and stresses and require innovative social services to deal with these issues.
  • Disconnect from User: Older adults tend to be co-opted into the general adult population, when in fact, they are a market in themselves because of their diverse needs and habits.
  • Misunderstood Breadth of Population: While there are fewer older adults than younger people in absolute numbers – especially in the developing world where most social businesses work – the ageing population is still a huge untapped market ripe for exponential growth and profit.
  • Rhetoric and Access Barriers:  As social businesses employ and tend to cater to younger populations, the language of these companies often exclude older adults. Buzzwords such as “Gen X” paint the picture that social enterprises are for young people only. Additionally, social venture incubators and training programs are often hosted at universities, giving the impression that these programs are exclusively for students and young people.
  • Technology Misconceptions: Social solutions are increasingly taking the form of apps and e-commerce. While younger populations are more adept and likely to use technology, if designed well, keeping in considerations older adults’ physical and access constraints, elders who are taught to use tech can operate  it just as well as their younger counterparts.

While there is no obvious discrimination against older entrepreneurs, the social impact space can be made more conducive for senior innovators. There is a slowly emerging stream of data that is sighting why the world’s ageing population needs to be a part of this revolution, and a small but steady group of programs that work with older people to help them ensure success as older entrepreneurs.

Older adults, despite the current barrier to access, have the potential to revolutionize how society perceives work among the aging and senior care through entrepreneurship.

Sachi Shah is an Economic and Development Professional currently working with a foundation in New York City, USA.

 

How Climate Change Affects the Health of Older Adults

Photo Credit: Thomas8047
Photo Credit: Thomas8047

Climate change and its consequences are an impending reality, ones that have both socio-emotional and physical effects on older adults. Our lives, livelihoods and health are intrinsically tied to that of the planet, so it is crucial to look at how we can improve resilience to climate change, especially in vulnerable populations like the elderly. Not all older people are the same as they react differently to the effects of climate change. However, there are a few trends that have been sighted to have a disproportional effect on older adults. These include:

Heatwaves: Heatwaves are one of the more direct consequences of global warming affecting senior citizens. More so than other populations, heatwaves can lead to severe heat strokes and dehydration in the elderly. This in turn can exacerbate existing medical conditions.

Air Pollution: We have all heard of or witnessed smog, the smoky, unseasonal fog that sets over cities and is caused by pollutants from industrial waste and fuel-guzzling vehicles. Smog comprises of several harmful chemicals that can damage lung tissue, reduce lung capacity and inflame airways. As the climate warms up, these chemicals mutate and their effects are exacerbated. This change in air quality can be a hard adjustment for older citizens especially those who grew up in a different climate. Additionally, older adults with existing heart and lung disease are particularly susceptible. Climate change is also causing a flux in pollen season, which is leading to increased and more severe allergens in the air.

Social Isolation: Seniors who live on their own do not always have access to help in emergency situations. Therefore, during weather emergencies, they are often stuck without access to basic services or a way out.

Climate Refugees: Natural disasters can lead to severe disruption and uncertainty in many people’s lives. These people may flee to other countries because their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Living in refugee camps without access to basic sanitation, clean water, medication and food, or the ability to pursue an income generating activity is especially hard on older adults. These types of events take a severe mental and physical toll on younger as well as older people.

New Diseases: It is a fact that as people get older, their immune system are not as strong as they used to be. Older adults are therefore more susceptible and less likely to make a full recovery from the newer and more dangerous forms of animal, air and water borne diseases due to climate change. Ebola and Zika Virus are just a couple of such infections that are currently plaguing societies, and have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable populations like the elderly.

Climate change is the reality of our time as it affects everyone. In any crisis, those who are at-risk because of poverty and health issues are most likely to be affected. Therefore, it is important that older adults recognize the effects and implications of climate change. Being conscious of one’s environmental footprint, building a community around oneself to turn to during emergencies, and taking small precautions like weatherproofing a person’s house or having an emergency evacuation plan mapped out to deal with weather irregularities can go a long way in safeguarding older adults from climate change.

Aging populations that lack the ability to take these precautions, such as those in poverty and especially in developing countries, should take on the challenge of teaching younger generations to recognize the effects of climate change and respect the planet. Younger generations in turn can seek more sustainable alternatives to natural resources, and pressure local governing bodies to create emergency plans for not just natural disasters but also more long-term climate change disasters such as droughts. This will ensure resilience for the overall community including the elderly.

Sachi Shah is an economics and development professional currently working with a foundation in New York City, USA.

The Flu in Focus: Epidemiology, History and Research of Global Influenza

I live in Baltimore, USA and it has been getting cold here. The nippy winds have been turning my nose red and when I come inside, I always need to have a tissue handy. With the cold weather, there is a looming fear of the flu.

Even if it is not winter where you live, the flu is a serious concern especially for older adults. The flu season in North America generally peaks in the winter months, somewhere between December – February. In tropical climates, however, the flu can strike at any time of the year. As you can see from the map, huge swaths of the world including Russia, Australia, and parts of Europe and the Middle East are experiencing higher levels of the flu, and areas in South America, and South Asia and North Africa are experiencing moderate flu levels. Most of the recent flu outbreaks, including the much-feared Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), were particularly deadly for older adults.

 Photo Credit: Sanofi Pasteur

                                                                                        Photo Credit: Sanofi Pasteur

For a healthy young or middle-aged adult, the flu will generally lead to physical discomfort and some sick days from work, but it is typically not a deadly disease. The flu can be very deadly for older adults. Older adults often have weakened immune systems that make it harder for them to fight off the flu virus. In addition, hospitals and nursing homes can provide an ideal environment for the transmission of the flu virus, even when nurses and doctors take proper safety precautions.

The flu is more than just a problem for older adults. For instance, the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 was a worldwide killer that was particularly deadly for healthy young adults. The Spanish Flu resulted in the deaths of between 40- 50 million people worldwide, or approximately the modern population of South Korea. Take a moment to consider the implications of a virus so deadly that it could wipe out the population of a country in less than a year. With modern air travel, the danger of a new strain of the flu is even more acute. Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 people die in an average year with a normal flu season, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

The flu is a particularly challenging virus because it frequently mutates. Scientists originally believed that the 1918 flu mutated from a form of flu commonly found in pigs, and the “swine flu” has since been observed in different parts of the world. However, evidence has shown that the 1918 flu was likely an avian bird flu that transferred into humans. If you are interested in learning more about the scientific search for the flu virus, the book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata is an excellent read.

WHO tracks the flu to try to predict the strain of flu that will be most common in a given year. In addition, WHO has a global action plan to increase the availability of the influenza vaccine. It is important that all countries, not just rich nations, have access to a flu vaccine. In India, Indonesia, Romania, Republic of Korea, and Thailand, new manufacturers are now producing the flu vaccine, thanks to WHO grants. Other developing countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa have also been given grants to improve flu vaccine manufacturing capabilities.

A flu pandemic should not keep you awake at night, but it is important that countries and international bodies are prepared for the possibility of a more deadly strain of the flu. Modern medical advances will likely increase the probability of surviving such a flu outbreak, but older adults and the immuno-compromised are always at higher risk of death or complications due to respiratory infections. The goal is to promote healthy-living strategies, such as good diet and exercise, to improve the immune system and protect at-risk populations from the flu virus and other infections.

Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Aquatic Wellness: Designing Functional Pools for A Personalized Experience

“This design to the length, reach, and breadth parameters of the body human translates into the least amount of energy, water, and space for the most exercise and traction. Do more with less…then reuse it.” The Vertical Pool

Aquatic therapy is a process wherein the body is submerged in a pool of warm water and made to perform movements for physical rehabilitation and recovery after an illness or injury. Many populations including seniors and veterans with disabilities are subject to physical limitations that can be improved through aquatic therapy, including internal organ function like pulmonary and cardiovascular efficiency.

As a professional aquatic practitioner, I have always dreamed of patenting my own pool design on a small footprint to economize on space and expense. A pool does not need to be large; it needs to be deep. After studying up on all the in-home and sports medicine pools on the market, I grew frustrated that not one pool – even at the cost of more than $60,000 – could meet my three critical requirements of internal pool depth of more than 54 inches, small in size and a sloping ramp access. This was until just a few months ago when a prospective buyer sought out one of my professional association member bulletin boards for a recommendation about what kind of pool to choose for her home. It was then that I learned about the Vertical Pool (TVP).

The Vertical Pool (TVP) has an internal depth of 67 inches – a full 13 inches deeper than most other small pools on the market. This meets two of my three criteria: internal depth and small size. I found several other redeeming features which offset the lack of my third requirement of a ramp access. Some of these redeeming features include a cross-bar above the deep section of the pool to hang from, an easy way to disassemble and relocate the pool, and an unprecedented price – features I have never seen in any pool during my 25 years in the field of aquatic therapy.

Additionally, aspects like specially designed accessories to clean the pool, a shower massage hose, an adjustable floor, and even a rudimentary device known as a “swimhorse” – a support frame that enables people to swim in place and horizontally – coupled with an eye for conservation, make this pool more than amazing! The more I considered TVP and my personal needs, the less hesitant I became about the modest $12,000 investment. After all, I can break it down and take it with me when I move. Even the biggest name-brand on the in-home pool market cannot be broken down and re-assembled with a base purchase price of $12,000.

Being the daughter of a World War II Navy Commander, and a considerate “fish out of water” who is passionate about the limitless benefits of working out or relaxing in water, I was particularly impressed with the million-dollar investment of TVP inventor, Peter G. Hold. Hold designed and created a functional personal pool that many wounded members of the armed forces may afford.

While many of my professional peers can argue that these soldiers need to be in class and supervised, both for socialization and safety, I have come to realize that many veterans with disabilities may not be able to attend classes in a community pool for a multitude of reasons. And if they cannot attend classes, they will not gain improved functional goals attained by aquatic therapy. Therefore, it is sometimes easier to rely upon a caregiver for the occassional visit to a class or therapist, and then be able to have “homework” to do in one’s own Vertical Pool.

As industry icon Dr. Igor Burdenko, whom I interviewed for this article, said in response to my question about how the Vertical Pool will impact the industry of aquatic exercise and therapy, “I see that this pool has an opportunity to be used all over the world. Nothing comes even close!” For more information, please visit The Vertical Pool and Aquatic Therapy Foundation. Make sure to access the ATTRIBUTES tab on The Vertical Pool website and scroll down to Dr. Burdenko’s explanation of the value of vertical.

Photo Credit: Felecia Fischell                                  

Felecia Fischell is an aquatic specialist with 25 years experience in aquatics. She leads aquatic classes and consults as an aquatic personal trainer and a swim instructor in and around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA. The Founder of FunLife Aquatics Consulting and Personal Training, Felecia presents at health fairs and has given aquatic presentations to high schools, Howard County Board of Education, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College.

HO-HO-H2O: Aquatic Therapy and Exercise Gifts

For the Christmas season, Felecia Fischell, aquatic specialist, has written a personal piece on  shopping for aquatic gifts.

The noodle is by far the most useful and versatile piece of aquatic equipment, and experientially speaking, HYDRO-FIT® sells the best product on the market. The HYDRO-FIT density foam has the longest shelf life I have ever seen. Several lasted more than 10 years, being used in a fresh water lake, saltwater cruise ship pool, chlorinated swimming pool, hot tub and the ocean. Currently referenced on their website, HYDRO-FIT sells the 54-inch long, 3.25-inch diameter solid noodles for $11.95 plus shipping. The shipping was considered “oversized” and therefore more expensive. However, I would rather purchase them again, as an eco-conscious consumer, because I have seen way too many of these equipment deteriorate and crumble in as little as one calendar year of indoor swimming pool use. Financially speaking, a $12 noodle, lasting 10+ years, is less expensive than buying $3 noodles every year or two. Because they are solid, not hollow, and made of superior foam, noodles retain their flotation properties well and do not become easily waterlogged. If you purchase a noodle, it can be straddled or wrapped around the back under the arms and may negate a need for the more expensive waist belt.

Photo Credit: Courtesy from HYDRO-FIT, Inc.
Photo Credit: Courtesy from HYDRO-FIT, Inc.

Waist belts are particularly useful when training in deep water. Low back support and aid in maintaining a vertical posture, when striding and pressing through the water with limbs can be important. This is so as not to compromise safest form through movement. There are many brands of belts and since this may truly be a personal comfort matter, it is difficult to recommend a specific one. Most belts should fit snugly around the midsection, almost as if the person cannot breathe when out of the water. The belt should not have dangling loose parts or get in the way of arm or leg movement through their fullest range of motion. Since waist belts are not often used in therapy as in exercise, this article provides tips to consider, rather than recommending a preferred brand. Please note, however, that belts which are straps with flotation “pillows” can be placed in different locations along the strap secured around the body. This may not only impede some movement but also increase the risk of losing the safest vertical form.

HYDRO-FIT still makes many of my most favorite products and during the Christmas season, their $100 cuff kit is being sold for $85. This kit includes a pair of webbed gloves (thin), a pair of hand buoys, a set of cuffs (which can be used not only on ankles or arms, but also buckled together to form a waist belt), and a very useful, sturdy mesh tote. I have enjoyed using other brand webbed gloves, as they do not need to be rolled down off the hand from the wrist, to prevent stretching that occurs if pulled off from the fingertips. Novice users do not require the added resistance and power of thicker, more robust gloves. Hence, the “wave mitts” included in this kit are perfect for beginner.

All of the items mentioned (highlighted and underscored) so far, except the gloves, are buoyancy equipment. The webbed gloves are drag equipment, as are paddles, bells and blades. Drag equipment is useful in that it works “omnidirectionally.” When under water, the drag equipment can train muscle parity (balance between complementary muscle pairs) more smoothly as it is not buoyant and likely to pop up to the surface. Muscle parity is frequently a more desirable objective in the outcome of rehabilitation and developing proper function for daily activities.

Paddles have evolved in design and form such that there are now glove-like devices that can be worn. There are far more designs and manufacturers of these than the paddles I use and started using more than 20 years ago. Comments based upon experience allow me to reference a pair of paddles that are hand-held, about 17-inch long and have a disc at each end. There is a center dial, allowing for adjustment of the triangular openings around the inner diameter of each disc. Water flows through the adjusted openings, making the resistance minutely modifiable. They are inexpensive, at less than $20 per pair, and withstand the test of age and durability. Water Gear Aquaflex manufactures these paddles and they can be obtained from many online vendors, including Swim2000.com. Persons with gripping issues or especially compromised wrist joints should not necessarily use such paddles.

max Blades and Bells by AquaLogix are inexplicably a new favorite. Purchased just a little over a year ago, their durable plastic polymer construction gives a sturdy appearance and I have found them easy to don, care for, carry and use. The bells come in three different sizes and the grip handles, inside the bells, make the equipment particularly comfortable to hold. The blades almost appear to be the innards of a turbine engine, and they are attached to a velcro strap that cinches around each ankle (or wrist/forearm). Using drag equipment is beneficial to those who prefer developing their strength by controlling the amount of force to move the equipment through water. Such folks do not want the feature of buoyancy to support their extremities when working out in the water.

From the Nekdoodle to the Wonderboard and Buoyancy Wrap by Sprint Aquatics, there is SO much product on the market today. Swim Outlet is one online clearinghouse for aquatic equipment of all sorts including suits, shoes, videos and electronics. Purchase choices are greatest through internet sources, where name brand sources can sometimes be found at small discounts. Store bought products are usually of lesser quality and cannot be supported for replacement, like many manufacturer websites. The choices are numerous, overwhelming and sometimes hard to decide. Visiting local aquatic and therapy facilities that use equipment is a great way to try out products before making the investment. There is no harm in asking if you may borrow or even test out the products in a pool facility during a non-busy time. Just make sure to bring your own towel and be prepared with a swimsuit worn under your clothes or kept in the car. Have fun helping yourself, a friend or loved one celebrate a positively Buoyant New Year!

Felecia Fischell is an aquatic specialist with 25 years experience in aquatics. She leads aquatic classes and consults as an aquatic personal trainer and a swim instructor in and around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA. The Founder of FunLife Aquatics Consulting and Personal Training, Felecia presents at health fairs and has given aquatic presentations to high schools, Howard County Board of Education, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College.