11+ Fine Motor Coordination Activities for Adult Rehab Patients
As an occupational therapist, OT student or COTA working in any adult rehab setting, you will see your fair share of patients with a new or exacerbated diagnosis that affects their fine motor coordination.
This can include a stroke, spinal cord injury, brain injury, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, or any other illness that affects the patient’s nervous system. These conditions can cause decreased fine motor coordination that directly affects their independence completing their self-care tasks.
This article specifically addresses functional, occupation-based ways to address decreased fine motor coordination.
So if you and your patients are bored with pegs and putty and are looking for more meaningful activities for fine motor coordination, this article is for you!
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There are so many fine motor components in dressing that can present a problem. Whether it’s tying shoelaces, buttoning a shirt or pants, zipping a jacket, or fastening a bra, focusing on what’s difficult for your patient and targeting that in the intervention is a great way to address fine motor coordination in the most functional way.
2. Medication Management
Creating a simulated medication management kit is a great way to target more difficult fine motor coordination skills. Opening/closing medication containers as well as picking up small “pills” both add a fine motor coordination component.
This activity also incorporates a high level cognitive element by verifying if the patient has added the correct “medications” that you have given them.
For how to make your own medication management kit, check out this example from the University of Utah’s College of Health.
If you’re in a setting that doesn’t have full kits for fine motor coordination (such as acute care), grooming is a great way to incorporate fine motor coordination. This can be done by having your patient open small toothpaste or soap containers, applying toothpaste to the toothbrush, and going through the full brushing routine with their affected hand.
You don’t have to be in acute care to work on grooming, though! In any rehab setting, most patients will really appreciate being able to work on their grooming tasks since this can sometimes get neglected by other staff.
Self-feeding or even simulated self feeding tasks like cutting and piercing “food” (like Theraputty) or scooping dried beans can be a good fine motor challenge for patients who demonstrate difficulty with managing self-feeding.
Starting off with finger foods during mealtime (if appropriate for the patient’s diet) is also a good fine motor challenge if utensils are too much of a challenge to start with.
5. Managing Grocery Containers
This activity requires a little extra prep work beforehand but can be used over and over. It’s often called a “Groceries Galore” kit which is one of my favorite interventions. This was also one of my in-service projects during my Level II, so I’m partial to it 🙂
The kit includes clean grocery containers of all varieties with added small items inside, such as pennies, Scrabble pieces, or other small items that the patient can open and dump out the small items in the container.
Adding the small items makes the task more of a graded-up challenge than simply opening and closing the containers.
6. Money Management
If your patient still uses change and cash regularly, this is a great way to really challenge their fine motor skills. Picking up small coins and bills and placing them in a small piggy bank while adding some money math skills can add in some bonus cognitive retraining.
You can also use a “credit card” to practice picking it up, putting it in/taking it out of a wallet, manipulating it and “swiping” it as another important component to money management. To avoid losing real credit cards, you can save those fake credit cards you get in the mail via offers, black out your name, and use them for practice.
7. Using a Lock Board
I’ve seen and used a lock board in several settings and have found it’s a great task to work the patient’s affected hand, since we all have locks at home! If your facility doesn’t have a lock board, they can be ordered online or one could be made for a great in-service project by a crafty fieldwork student.
If your patient was using a computer, iPad, or iPhone frequently and has been having difficulty, keyboarding is also a great fine motor coordination activity that many of my patients have been glad to address. Not only are these important work skills but they also are commonly used in virtual social interaction.
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In addition to keyboarding, handwriting can also be a new challenge if the patient’s dominant hand has been affected. If handwriting starts off as too challenging, you can modify by incorporating coloring in adult coloring books if it is something the patient enjoys. This is not only great for improving fine motor skills but has also been shown to be helpful in stress reduction.
10. Meal Preparation
Simple meal preparation has so many components that address fine motor coordination, from opening packages, containers, scooping, and cutting the food. I also love doing meal preparation activities to address standing tolerance, balance, functional reaching, and safety awareness.
11. App-Based Fine Motor Coordination Activities
While using an app might not at first seem like a traditional occupation-based activity, many patients use their smart phones and tablets every day, and impaired fine motor coordination can of course also impact their use of their devices.
So if you’re able to add in some technology to your treatments, here are some of our favorite free or very low cost fine motor coordination apps:
Piano Tiles is a free app that addresses accuracy and speed of coordinated movement. It challenges the user to move their fingers quickly through the interface which can help to increase coordination not only for device use but also keyboarding or work-related skills.
Dexteria Fine Motor Skill Development
Dexteria is an app that can be used from grade K-adults that focuses on improving fine motor skills through exercises that work on strength, control, and dexterity with games like “Tap it,” “Pinch it,” and “Write it.” At the time of publishing, the cost for this app is $5.99.
ReHand is an app that provides specific finger exercises to improve ROM and coordinated or isolated movement. At time of publishing, the app provides a free demo to patients and states to work through a doctor or therapist for the full version. As the therapist, you can use the app to monitor your patient progress and completion of exercises.
Looking for more great apps to use in your practice? Be sure to check out our article, The Best Occupational Therapy Apps for Adult Rehab Patients.
Many of these fine motor coordination activities may initially be challenging for your patients, so you can certainly adapt each task as needed.
For example, you may incorporate larger buttons, zippers or “medications” if you find the task to be too difficult. You can then progress to the more challenging, smaller items as your patients master the easier task.
Looking for even more fine motor coordination activities for your adult rehab patients? The OT Flourish blog also has 27 occupational therapists’ fine motor intervention ideas to add to your repertoire.
I hope this article helps you add some functional fine motor coordination treatment ideas to your personal rehab toolbox. I’d also love to hear some of your favorite go-to fine motor coordination interventions in the comments below!
This post was originally published on Jan. 24, 2017 and updated on Fed. 15, 2021 and January 29, 2022.