Dexterity and hand strength tend to drop rapidly after the age of 65, but there are many ways to retain and restore this vital attribute

7 June 2022

Ageing is a complex and interconnecting process, where various functions and abilities begin to decline, often in parallel. A classic example of this involves the strength and dexterity of our hands. The ageing process brings changes to our joints and tissue, nerves and receptors, skin and fingernails, all of which can affect grip and strength. Alongside this, developing conditions such as osteoarthritis and Parkinson’s can also contribute to diminishing hand function. Diabetes, heart disease and even high blood pressure are other contributory factors, while medicines may increase tremors alongside tiredness or anxiety.

While there’s currently no pill or potion capable of stopping the ageing process, there are plenty of ways to restore lost hand dexterity and ensure you’re not defeated by ring-pulls, shoelaces or sealed jars…


Start the fightback by adopting simple home exercises that preserve and improve mobility and muscular strength for your hands – and also your whole body:

  1. Hands
  • Bend each finger onto your palm for up to five seconds in sequence.
  • Repeatedly extend your hand as if for a handshake, then clench it into a gentle fist.
  • Using the tip of each thumb, touch the bases and tips of each finger on that hand.
  • Press your palm against a firm surface, gently pulling the wrist up for five seconds.
  1. Body
  • Lift your arms above your head, and make repeated snow-angel motions.
  • Hold your arms straight in front of you with fingers outstretched until they grow tired.
  • Lift modest dumbbell weights with bicep curls, bench presses and shoulder presses.


Alongside acid reflux and faster weight gain, getting older involves adopting a healthier diet. There are easy ways to bolster hand strength through dietary changes, such as consuming more fatty fish whose acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that high consumption of fruit, veg, breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread also helps grip strength. Higher protein consumption has a slight benefit, though there’s little evidence vitamin supplements will help.

Care and maintenance

Dry or taut skin will increase the discomfort caused by performing certain hand gestures, which in turn can diminish the frequency with which we conduct them. This creates a vicious circle. Ensure hands are supple by using moisturising soap or hand cream at least once a day, and more often if skin seems dry, cracked or tight. Excessive hand-washing often dries out hands, so try to do mucky jobs in quick succession to reduce the amount of washing and towel-drying required. Also apply high SPF suncream outdoors, and wear cotton-lined gloves during messy jobs.

Fidget toys

If you’ve ever found yourself idly spinning a pencil between your fingers, you’ve already participated in a key method of maintaining finger dexterity. Other popular props include squeezable foam or rubber balls, elastic bands and tension belts, clay and putty – ideally of the sort which don’t create any mess as you interact with them!

Hobbies and pastimes

It’s easy to let physical limitations stop you from enjoying existing hobbies, but a good way to fight back is to redouble your efforts. From knitting to chess, anything which requires hand dexterity is a naturally effective way to preserve and even rebuild this ability. In the age of electronic communications, writing with a pen provides your tendons, wrist and fingers with a surprisingly comprehensive workout.

Professional support

Visiting an occupational or physical therapist can determine exactly how much mobility or strength has been lost. Experts may recommend more advanced techniques than the ones listed above, tailored to your specific issues or abilities. They’ll have access to specialist equipment (such as a dynamometer for calculating grip strength), and the knowledge to link symptoms and causes. For instance, recurrent bruising may be linked to regularly using aspirin or taking blood thinners.