Crafts for Seniors with Limited Dexterity: Ideas for Caregivers

Crafts for Seniors with Limited DexterityMy uncle, Jim, loves to work with his hands. For most of his life, he’s been an avid model builder, painter, and multi-talented craftsmen. He could sit at the kitchen table all day long, building, painting, and creating without even stopping for lunch.

Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, he slowly began losing dexterity in his hands, making it almost impossible for him to do the intricate work that he used to. For Jim, this was really tough. The thing that had brought him so much joy was now causing him a lot of frustration. He gave up working with his hands altogether and that creative spark in him seemed to fizzle out.

Uncle Jim’s experience is a common one. As adults age, they experience muscle fiber loss that can result in decreased dexterity. This often means that they must give up hobbies, such as knitting, crocheting, or beading, that bring them great joy. But because of this tendency to decrease activity, it is important for aging adults to find new enjoyable activities or projects that can improve their dexterity while stimulating their creativity.

So, in the spirit of helping my Uncle Jim and many other aging adults like him, I’ve come up with a few fun crafts for seniors with limited dexterity that caregivers or family members can have fun doing with them.  

Important Considerations for Crafting with Seniors with Limited Dexterity

There are a few important things to keep in mind when doing crafts projects with seniors who have limited dexterity. The first is patience. When I first started going over to my uncle’s place to do crafts with him, I was surprised by how difficult it was for him to complete what I would consider to be simple tasks, such as using a glue stick or picking up markers. I immediately realized that I had to muster all the patience I had to let him do things on his own instead of taking the reigns.

The point is not to get things done quickly but to engage the mind and the hands while enjoying the process of creation. I also had to remind him to have patience with himself. At first, he would get very down on himself for not being able to pick up buttons or use a paintbrush like he used to. But eventually, with enough reminders, he became more patient with himself and more accepting of his decreased dexterity.

In the same vein, be sure to block out enough time for the project. While they don’t have to finish it in one sitting, you don’t want your aging loved one to feel rushed while crafting, as that can make them feel frustrated. Instead, think of creating art as therapy. Put on some nice music, make a cup of tea, and embrace a leisurely pace.

Finally, when choosing craft projects for your loved one, avoid using sharp objects, like knives and needles, or hot objects like glue guns or irons. With limited dexterity, there is a higher risk of accidents, so if the project requires these items, be sure to lend a helping hand so that nobody gets hurt.

3 Simple, Seasonal Crafts for Seniors with Limited Dexterity

I’ve tried a lot of crafts with Uncle Jim with varied success. Some have ended up being much too difficult for him because of his limited dexterity, while others are far too simple. The crafts below, however, seem to be in the sweet spot and should be accessible for aging adults with varying levels of dexterity.

In the spirit of the holidays, here are some of my uncle’s favorite seasonal crafts that are perfect for you to do with your aging loved one this time of year.

paper plate wreath

Autumn paper plate wreaths

This is a very versatile craft that can be adapted depending on the season, but it’s an especially good one for Thanksgiving. Your loved one can hang it on their door or inside their home for a lovely autumnal accent!

What you need:

  • A paper plate
  • Scissors
  • Leaves
  • Liquid glue

Directions:

  1. Take your aging loved one for a beautiful fall walk and collect colorful fallen leaves.
  2. When you get home, cut the center out of a paper plate to make a wreath shape.
  3. Using the leaves you collected, have your loved one glue them one by one to the paper plate, overlapping them slightly. Let dry.

sock snowman

Image courtesy of easypeasyandfun.com

Simple sock snowman

This snowman sock, inspired by Andreja of easypeasyandfun.com, uses elastic bands instead of thread to hold everything in place, making it much easier than a project that involves sewing. This makes a great do-it-yourself gift or a cute decoration to spruce up your loved one’s space for the holidays. Depending on how limited your aging loved one’s dexterity is, they may need help with this craft, but it is a super fun one to do together! You can even make a few at once!

What you need:

  • A long white sock
  • 1 large funnel
  • 2-3 cups of rice or other grain
  • 2 medium rubber bands
  • One colored sock (for the hat)
  • A black permanent marker
  • 4 buttons (different sizes and colors are fine)
  • One small piece of ribbon
  • Glue gun

Directions:

  1. Using the funnel, fill the sock with rice or grain of choice, and use an elastic to close the top so that the sock is fairly snug around the rice.
  2. Use the second elastic to form the head, placing it closer to the top of the sock. Wrap it around a few times if need be and squish around the rice to get a nice snowman shape.
  3. To make the hat, roll up the colored sock a bit and place it over the top of the white sock, stuffing any excess material from the body inside the hat.
  4. Next, draw eyes and a mouth with the black marker. You may need to help your loved one with this task.
  5. Using the glue gun, fasten the buttons down the front of the snowman’s body and place one in the center of the face for the iconic button nose!
  6. Finally, wrap the ribbon around the snowman’s neck like a scarf and glue in place.

geometric painting

Image courtesy of Ann via Flickr CC

Geometric tape painting

For those with limited dexterity, painting isn’t an easy task. This fun craft project, however, doesn’t require much precision, so it is great for older adults who don’t have full control of their hands. Using tape, paint, and a canvas, your aging loved one can create a beautiful, colorful piece of art for their home that will liven up any space. You may need to help them apply and remove the tape, but other than that, this is a project they can do on their own!

What you need:

  • 1 canvas
  • Painter’s tape
  • Acrylic paints
  • A medium/large paint brush

Directions:

  1. Place long strips of tape randomly across the canvas to create a design.
  2. Paint the sections of bare canvas, using a variety of colors. Make sure to clean the brush when switching colors. Let dry.
  3. Remove tape to reveal a beautiful masterpiece!

Depending on the level of your loved one’s dexterity, it may take a little while to find crafts in that sweet spot that aren’t too difficult or too easy. But once you do, you’ll be able to see the joy that using their hands and engaging their creative minds brings them. Plus, you’ll both enjoy quality time you’ll spend together creating. The time that I treasure the most is Sunday afternoons crafting with Uncle Jim. And I can tell by the look on his face and the spark in his eye that he enjoys it, too.

At Institute on Aging, we strive to help aging adults stay engaged, inspired, and active. To learn more about our wide variety of services and programs for older adults, including our Social Day Program, contact us today.  

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