As an Occupational Therapist or COTA working in the adult rehab settings, you will see your fair share of patients with a neurological disorder 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 self-care tasks.
This article specifically addresses functional occupation-based ways to address decreased fine motor coordination.
So if you’re bored with pegs and putty and are looking for more meaningful activities for fine motor coordination, this article is for you!
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 (such as acute care) that doesn’t have full kits for fine motor coordination, grooming is a great way to incorporate fine motor coordination. This can be done by opening small toothpaste or soap containers, as well as applying toothpaste to the toothbrush if possible.
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, 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.
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, this 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 also are commonly used in virtual social interaction.
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 fine motor skills but as also been shown to be helpful in stress reduction.
10. Meal Preparation
Simple meal preparation has so many components that address fine motor, 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.
For a more in-depth article on meal prep as an intervention, check out this article from Advance Healthcare titled “Meal Preparation as an OT Modality.”
Many of these fine motor coordination activities may 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.
And for even more fine motor coordination activities, Seniors Flourish’s 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 toolbox.
I’d also love to hear some of your favorite go-to’s in the comments below!