Aging affects the brain as well as the rest of the body. With advanced age comes a decline in sensorimotor function and control. This can affect gait, balance, fine motor control, and the ability to perform activities of daily living. Seniors who lose these abilities may not be able to maintain their independence. The good news is that physical activity may offset some of the effects of aging on the brain.
Many older people have small white spots known as white matter hyperintensities (WMH) that show up on brain MRIs. An increased number of WMHs has been linked to problems with movement, such as difficulty walking. In a recent study, researchers found that the more active seniors are, the less these white spots on the brain affect motor function. For study participants in the 90 th percentile who walked one and a half hours a day, there was no association found between WMHs and motor function.
Activities to Improve and Strengthen Motor Skills
Older people need to work harder to maintain both their large (gross) motor skills and their fine motor skills. Here are some activities for both.
Exercises to Strengthen Large Motor Skills
Seniors need at least 20 minutes of physical activity three days a week. Without regular exercise, they can lose strength, energy, and gross motor skills. The following activities are recommended for older people:
- Walk: Start out slowly, just walking around the block, then gradually increase the distance to a half mile or longer. Even if you do nothing else, walking at least five days a week will strengthen your legs and improve your circulation.
- Climb stairs: Walking up stairs can help you maintain balance and coordination. You can do this
with the stairs in your home or use an exercise step.
- Hop back and forth: This helps you gain body control and develop balance. Locate a line on the
floor and hop from one side of the line to the other.
- Throw a ball: This can help you develop muscle control and arm strength. Aim for a target or
toss a ball back and forth with a grandchild.
Activities to Improve Fine Motor Skills
To help keep fine motor skills sharp, engage in activities that require hand-eye coordination, skillfully manipulating tools, holding hands and fingers against an opposing force, using two hands together, or using some fingers but not others at a time. Examples of these types of activities include:
- Knitting or crocheting
- Doing jigsaw puzzles
- Playing with putty
- Digging and planting seeds in a garden
- Putting beads on a string
- Crafting with small materials, such as pipe cleaners, jewels, and buttons
- Finger painting
- Using tools on screws or nails
- Stacking coins
In addition to activities that help you maintain your motor skills, it is important to see your doctor on a regular basis so any underlying health conditions can be diagnosed and treated. Regular healthcare is important at any age, and particularly for seniors. Our friendly agent can help you find a health plan that suits your needs.