Doing Hand and Speech Therapy with Mamma

In my prior post, I shared some of the laughter and challenges around physical therapy with my mom.  She also had speech therapy and simple activities for the arthritis in her hands.  I was amazed at how much the simple therapy worked to resolve the cramped twisted hands she had just a few months before starting the therapy. 

Her main therapy was a game with beads hidden in a small blob of therapy putty.  She had to work the putty between her fingers or on a table until she found all 20 beads.  This took anywhere from 8-15 minutes as she would stop and ask me to remind her how many she needed to find.  If she accidentally knocked a bead onto the floor, she would use her eagle eyes to find it and tell you to pick it up before it got lost.  My Mom could see and hear better than most of her children!  When she was done, I simply mixed the beads back into the putty and sealed the bowl for the next day’s therapy.  Then I gave Mamma an antibacterial hand wipe to clean her hands and the table surface.  We also used a wipe before we started the therapy to keep the putty clean longer.

An alternative hand therapy, that Mom sometimes did while watching TV in the afternoon, included squeezing a stress-style rubber ball or toy.  The ball she liked best looked like a puffy fish from the dollar store that made a face when it was squeezed tight enough to make the sides touch each other.   She also had a light-up ball that she often got little kids to try out.  She found it amusing if a grandchild was not able to squeeze it hard enough to make the light come on the way she could.  It didn’t take long to wear out the light on those balls.  

On the rare occasions Mamma said she did not want to do her “hand exercise” I would make my hand look like hers once did and remind her that is why she had to do the exercises daily.  That usually got her to take the time, as she did not like how her hands used to look and feel.  Plus when her hands were twisted and shaking from Parkinson’s, she was not able to write well which she also hated.

Mom’s therapist at the rehab center said it was important for her to still feel useful and not do everything for her.  So another form of therapy I came up with help her feel she was getting work done.

Over the years, Mamma bought “costume jewelry” at yard sales. She often just threw them in a box or drawer when she got home.  So she had a tangled mess of necklaces and bracelets.  So about once a month, we would sit together untangling jewelry instead of doing the putty as this seemed to require the same motions.  Mom’s eagle eye would find the right knot and she would pull at it until she got it loosened.  I showed her how she could use a safety pin instead of a finger nail to pull knots loose, since we tried to keep her nails short. While we worked for 15 minutes, we would talk about some of her memories as a child or when her children were growing up.  Sometimes we would cry, but more often we would giggle or laugh over the memories.    When we were done, I would put the untangled jewelry in her jewelry box and put the rest of the mess into her nightstand.  If she found something broken, she would ask me to take it home and repair it.  IF she found something in need of cleaning, she insisted on doing right then.  I think it took us about a dozen sessions to complete the task. 

Besides the versions of physical/occupational therapy, mom had speech therapy because she did not talk very loud and had difficulty swallowing sometimes related to the Parkinson’s.  As long as she did the speech therapy of tongue twisters, crazy sentences, and silly sounds; her volume would be improved.  However, if she missed a couple of days, she would go back to a whisper and slurring of some of her words.   Sometimes, when she was were working on her putty, we would do her speech therapy at the same time.   Other times, when she was working on her jewelry, I would try to get Mamma to sing choruses of old songs with me.  Having that sing-along seemed to help with her volume and pronunciation too.


Another alternative to the hand putty was letting Mom do intricate cleaning of one of her prized knick-knacks with a soft cloth and a toothbrush.  She also often helped fold laundry like towels and washcloths so we would do some of her speech therapy while we worked.  Mamma also liked to match and ball pairs of socks, which she could do very quickly!  I would leave the room to put away towels and come back to a big hill of socks to put away!

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