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University of Illinois Extension

6. Butterfingers

Changes in Touch and Dexterity

As people get older, their fingers, feet, knees and elbows can begin to feel stiff. There can also be changes in their sense of touch, which makes it more difficult to detect extremes in temperature, and to feel vibration, pressure, and even pain.

As muscles grow smaller and weaker, it becomes more difficult to lift heavy objects or perform other activities that require strength. The less muscles are used, the weaker they become.

Older people who have problems with touch and dexterity may be more likely to:

Project Skill

Life Skill

Materials Needed

These items are all found in the "immediate aging kit."


What To Do

You can understand what it's like to have trouble moving your fingers and lifting things with the help of transparent tape and gloves.

If you place transparent tape around all of your upper finger joints, your fingers will feel stiff.

If you place a glove on each hand, you will feel as if you have a reduced sense of touch.

Not that you have the transparent tape and gloves on your hands, you will complete up to four routine tasks. The tasks include tying the ribbon into a bow, using a coin purse, shuffling cards, and opening a medicine bottle. To make the experiences even more difficult, wear the yellowed glasses!

A medicine bottle is used in the following task for demonstration purposes only. If your parents have a rule against touching medicine bottles, don't attempt the task until you have permission.

Task A

Imagine you are having stomach pains, and you need some pills to stop the pain. You have always had a problem opening your medicine bottles, but lately it seems worse.

  1. Take out the medicine bottle filled with small colored buttons.
  2. Open the bottle.
  3. Pull out one "pill."
  4. What color is the "pill?"
  5. How many "pills" remain in the bottle?
  6. How many different colors of "pills" are in the bottle?
  7. Put all the "pills" back in the bottle and close the lid.

Task B

Your three-year-old great-granddaughter has come over for the afternoon. While playing, her shoelace comes untied. She comes running up to you and asks you to tie her shoe. Try to imagine tying the shoelace while your great-granddaughter fidgets and squirms.

  1. Take out a string.
  2. Tie the string in a bow.
  3. Untie the string.

Task C

It is 5 p.m. and you are the first one in line to get on the city bus. The bus is at a stoplight as you approach the steps. As you pull out your coin purse to pay the fare, the light suddenly turns green. The bus driver cannot go, because there are still five people waiting to get on the bus. The people behind you start pushing and shoving. The drivers in the cars behind the bus beep their horns in frustration.

(Note: Other participants or family members can role play as frsutrated commuters to make this activity more difficult and realistic.)

  1. Take out the coin purse.
  2. Open the purse.
  3. Count out $1.30.
  4. Hand the money to a partner.

(Note: Please put the money back in the coin purse after this task.)

Task D

Your grandson has asked you to play a game of cards. Your hands have felt stiff lately, but you try it anyway because you enjoy doing things with your grandson.

  1. Take out a deck of playing cards.
  2. Shuffle the cards.
  3. Deal seven cards to yourself.
  4. Put the cards in order from lowest to highest value while they remain in your hands.
  5. Shuffle the cards once more and put them away.


Looking Back...

  1. How did you feel during these activities?
  2. Were the routine tasks difficult for you? Explain your feelings.
  3. How do these activities help you relate to older people in real life situations?
  4. How can you use what you learned in this activity?

What's Next?

Once you have thought about these questions, continue on to Helping People Who Have Physical Limitations or return to the Making Sense of Sensory Changes Table of Contents.