As we age, our bodies go through changes that can impact the way we live day to day. For seniors, one of the biggest issues can be a decline in manual dexterity. This can make simple tasks like opening a jar or buttoning a shirt much more difficult and can even lead to falls and other injuries. Read on to learn more about why manual dexterity declines as we age and how seniors can combat the loss.
Manual dexterity is defined as one’s ability to precisely and instantly control finger movements in a coordinated and intentional manner, such as clutching and maneuvering small objects.
Estimates of the percentage of the population that loses manual dexterity with age vary, but it is thought to be significant. One study found that nearly 50 percent of adults over the age of 70 had difficulty performing activities that require manual dexterity.
For many seniors, the loss of manual dexterity can be a major problem. This can make everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning, and even dressing difficult to impossible.
A study by the National Library of Medicine shows that there are two primary patterns of impaired manual dexterity. The first pattern is connected to healthy aging while the other is a result of cognitive decline. Both patterns can be slowed, reversed, and prevented with proactive living targeted at maintaining hand strength.
What Causes the Loss of Manual Dexterity as We Age?
There are many factors that can contribute to the loss of manual dexterity as we age. Arthritis, joint pain, and other age-related issues can make it difficult to use our hands in the same way we did when we were younger. Muscles can weaken and tendons can become less flexible, making it harder to grip objects or perform delicate tasks. Nerve damage can also lead to a loss of feeling in the hands, making it difficult to know how hard to grip something or how much pressure to apply. All these factors can combine to make everyday tasks more difficult and frustrating.
In some cases, the loss of manual dexterity may be due to an underlying medical condition that can be treated. In other cases, however, it may simply be a natural part of aging.
Some conditions that affect manual dexterity include:
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints, including those in the hands. The disease causes the breakdown of cartilage, which leads to pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility in the joints. Osteoarthritis can also cause the loss of manual dexterity, which is the ability to perform fine motor tasks such as buttoning a shirt or handwriting skills.
The loss of manual dexterity can make everyday activities difficult and frustrating. For example, someone with osteoarthritis in their hands may not be able to grip a doorknob or tie their shoelaces. This can make it difficult to get around and participate in activities.
There are several reasons why osteoarthritis can cause the loss of manual dexterity. First, the disease can cause the joints in the hands to become misshapen. This can make it difficult to grip objects or perform delicate tasks. Second, osteoarthritis can lead to the loss of sensation in the hands. This can make it difficult to feel objects and know how hard to grip them. Third, osteoarthritis can cause inflammation in the joints. This can make the joints stiff and painful, making it difficult to move them.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints. RA not only leads to painful inflammation and swelling of the joints but can also lead to the loss of manual dexterity.
The loss of manual dexterity in RA is caused by the destruction of the cartilage and bone within the joints. This damage can eventually lead to fusion of the joints, which limits their range of motion and makes it difficult to perform tasks that require fine motor skills. In addition, RA can cause inflammation of the tendons, which can make it difficult to move the affected joints.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition that affects the ulnar nerve, which runs from the shoulder to the hand. The ulnar nerve controls the small muscles of the hand that allow for fine motor skills such as picking up small objects or buttoning a shirt. When the ulnar nerve is compressed, it can cause weakness and loss of feeling in the hand and fingers. In severe cases, it can also cause loss of manual dexterity.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
One of the most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome is the loss of manual dexterity. This can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as opening a door or writing a letter. The loss of manual dexterity is caused by the compression of the median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. The median nerve provides sensation to the thumb and fingers and controls the muscles that allow them to move. When the median nerve is compressed, it can become irritated and inflamed, causing symptoms such as pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand and fingers. The loss of manual dexterity occurs when the inflammation and irritation cause damage to the nerve fibers that control muscle movement. This damage can lead to weakness and atrophy of the muscles in the hand and fingers and can make it difficult to perform tasks that require precise movement, such as buttoning a shirt or typing on a keyboard. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive condition, which means that the symptoms can worsen over time. If left untreated, the loss of manual dexterity can become permanent.
Osteoporosis, a condition characterized by the loss of bone mass, can lead to the loss of manual dexterity. The bones in the hands and fingers are particularly vulnerable to osteoporosis, as they are constantly being used in daily activities. Over time, the bones can become weakened and fragile, making it more difficult to perform tasks that require fine motor skills.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that typically affects older adults. The disease is characterized by tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with balance. People with Parkinson’s often have trouble with fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning a shirt.
How to Combat the Loss of Manual Dexterity
While the loss of manual dexterity can be a major problem for seniors, it is important to remember that there are ways to cope with this condition. With the right assistance and support, many seniors can maintain their independence and live fulfilling lives.
There are several things that seniors can do to help cope with the loss of manual dexterity, some of which target physical strengthening while others work to exercise the mind.
Here are seven examples of ways to improve manual dexterity:
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps maintain muscle strength, including in the hands and fingers.
- Do hand-strengthening exercises. There are many exercises you can do to improve hand strength, such as using putty, squeezing a tennis ball, or using resistance bands.
- Play games that require manual dexterity. Games like Jenga or cards can help improve hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity.
- Stay active and engaged mentally. Keeping your mind active can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline, which can in turn help improve hand function.
- See your doctor regularly. Make sure to see your doctor for regular checkups, as they can detect any problems with your hands or fingers early on. Pain or stiffness in your hands can be a sign of arthritis or another condition.
- Take up knitting or gardening. These two activities will require you keep your hands engaged while also offering a mental boost. (Make sure to protect your hands when gardening with gloves to prevent damage.)
- Keep your hands and fingers healthy. Get a manicure or pedicure regularly to keep your nails and cuticles healthy.
By following these seven tips, seniors can help maintain hand strength and dexterity, making everyday tasks easier and reducing the risk of falls and injuries.
Parkwood Heights is Dedicated to All Your Health Needs
As people age, it's important to keep their minds and bodies active. That's why Parkwood Heights offers a variety of enriching activities for seniors. From arts and crafts to educational programs, we have something for everyone.
We also offer a wide range of services to help seniors maintain their health. Our on-site wellness center can help with both routine and urgent care needs. We also have a fitness center so seniors can stay active and healthy.
We know that aging can be challenging, but we're here to help our residents enjoy a high quality of life. Come see all that Parkwood Heights has to offer!