How Can You Improve Hand-Eye Coordination As You Age?

Coor­di­na­tion can get worse as you get old­er, but there’s some­thing you can do about it.

If you ever played base­ball or ten­nis, you prob­a­bly know the feel­ing: yelling, I’ve got it” and then com­plete­ly miss­ing the ball. 

It’s nor­mal to have these types of slip-ups with your hand-eye coor­di­na­tion once in a while. Hand-eye coor­di­na­tion is the abil­i­ty of your eyes to take in infor­ma­tion and your brain to send sig­nals from that infor­ma­tion to your hands and arms. It allows you to move your hands and arms, and car­ry out tasks like writ­ing, grab­bing objects, or driving. 

As you get old­er, you may notice that your hand-eye coor­di­na­tion is get­ting worse. That’s part of the nor­mal aging process, so it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly cause for alarm. How­ev­er, it can make tasks like unpack­ing the gro­ceries or play­ing catch with your grand­child not as sim­ple as they once were. The good news is that there are ways to main­tain your coor­di­na­tion as you get older. 

Why Hand-Eye Coor­di­na­tion Gets Worse With Age 

In many cas­es, declin­ing hand-eye coor­di­na­tion is just the result of nor­mal aging. 

Los­ing cells that pro­duce dopamine — the feel good” hor­mone — is com­mon as you age. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this can slow down your move­ments and make coor­di­na­tion difficult. 

In addi­tion, the eye and vision prob­lems that are com­mon with age may stand in the way of hand-eye coor­di­na­tion. These prob­lems include:

Glau­co­ma (a group of eye dis­eases where you have vision loss due to dam­age to the nerve at the back of your eye) 

  • Glau­co­ma (a group of eye dis­eases where you have vision loss due to dam­age to the nerve at the back of your eye) 
  • Cataracts (cloudy areas in your eye­’s nat­ur­al lens that makes it dif­fi­cult to see clearly) 
  • Mac­u­lar degen­er­a­tion (a part of your reti­na — the lay­er of cells on the back wall of your eye — is dam­aged and caus­es vision loss) 

There are also lifestyle fac­tors that you have more con­trol over, like diet and exercise. 

Diet plays a role, as well. Many Amer­i­cans eat a typ­i­cal West­ern diet — one that has large por­tion sizes, is low in fruits and veg­eta­bles, and is high in calo­ries, sug­ar, fat, and sodi­um. Peo­ple over age 60 who eat a West­ern diet and don’t get enough exer­cise may have min­istrokes” — strokes that are so tiny that they aren’t notice­able. But just because you can’t see them, that doesn’t mean they are insignif­i­cant. These min­istrokes” can dis­rupt con­nec­tions in the cen­ters of your brain that reg­u­late coor­di­na­tion and move­ment, result­ing in poor hand-eye coor­di­na­tion. In this way, what you eat affects your coordination. 

Phys­i­cal Activ­i­ty — Espe­cial­ly Phys­i­cal Ther­a­py — Is Key 

One of your best resources for find­ing ways to improve hand-eye coor­di­na­tion is a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist (PT). If you choose phys­i­cal ther­a­py, it’s rec­om­mend­ed to work direct­ly with a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist (PT) so that they can put togeth­er a pro­gram that is tai­lored to your indi­vid­ual needs and that defines your per­son­al goals. PTs can also teach you the safest and most effec­tive ways to do your exercises. 

Whether or not you choose to work with a PT, make sure that you’re keep­ing active. Phys­i­cal activ­i­ty isn’t just impor­tant for your phys­i­cal and men­tal health — it’s also a known way to improve coordination. 

Also read: Stay­ing Active: Hob­bies and Exer­cis­es For Parkinson’s Dis­ease 

If you’ve always want­ed to pick up a sport, now is the time. Sports like pick­le­ball, swim­ming, or golf are all rec­om­mend­ed for strength­en­ing hand-eye coordination. 

You may also want to try your hand at tai chi — a low-impact exer­cise that orig­i­nat­ed in Chi­na as a mar­tial art. It com­bines med­i­ta­tion with a series of deep breath­ing and slow, flow­ing move­ments, and shift­ing your weight between pos­es. This improves bal­ance, flex­i­bil­i­ty, strength, reflex­es, and range of motion — which are all ele­ments of move­ment and hand-eye coor­di­na­tion. A Euro­pean study found that hand-eye coor­di­na­tion improved by almost 20% by doing tai chi three times a week for three months. 

Or, stick to more tra­di­tion­al exer­cis­ing, such as brisk walk­ing or tak­ing aer­o­bics class­es for at least 30 min­utes a day for five days a week. 

Just remem­ber that you may not be able to play or exer­cise for as long or with the same inten­si­ty as you did in your younger years. You might need to make some adjust­ments, like trad­ing ten­nis for pick­le­ball or not swim­ming quite as many laps. 

Request an appoint­ment with a Duly Health and Care phys­i­cal therapist.

Work on Hand-Eye Coor­di­na­tion Beyond Phys­i­cal Activity 

There are plen­ty of oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for improv­ing hand-eye coor­di­na­tion besides going to phys­i­cal ther­a­py — and some don’t even involve leav­ing your home. Here are a few ways that you can work on your coor­di­na­tion.

Take Up a Coor­di­na­tion-Friend­ly Hobby 

Grab a ball of yarn and start knit­ting. Open up a jig­saw puz­zle. Pick up a paint­brush. These types of activ­i­ties work your fine motor skills — the tiny, pre­cise move­ments you make with your hands and fin­gers to accom­plish tasks. Research sug­gests that hon­ing fine motor skills can help you main­tain coor­di­na­tion as you age. 

Keep Up With Your Eye Doctor 

Depend­ing on the type of eye prob­lem, your eye doc­tor may be able to treat it or slow it down so that it has less of an effect on your vision — and poten­tial­ly, less of an effect on your coordination. 

Also read: Should I See an Optometrist or Oph­thal­mol­o­gist?

Try the Mediter­ranean Diet 

Since the typ­i­cal West­ern diet can con­tribute to those min­istrokes that affect coor­di­na­tion, chang­ing your diet may make a dif­fer­ence. Try shift­ing toward the Mediter­ranean diet, which is one of the top-ranked diets for healthy eat­ing in the US. It is full of plant-based, min­i­mal­ly-processed foods, uses olive oil as the main source of fat, and lim­its added sug­ars, sat­u­rat­ed fats, and processed or fat­ty meats. 

When to See a Provider 

It’s nev­er too ear­ly or too late to talk to your provider about improv­ing hand-eye coor­di­na­tion. Your provider can refer you to a PT or you can sched­ule an appoint­ment to help you devel­op a per­son­al plan, whether you’re look­ing to get back some of the hand-eye coor­di­na­tion you’ve lost, or you’re hop­ing to avoid los­ing coor­di­na­tion in the future. 

  • As a physical therapist, I believe in collaborating with my patients to help optimize their movements and improve their quality of life. I strive to provide quality care to my patients to help them achieve their goals and to improve their functional mobility