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Recover Your Handwriting Retrain Your Brain

“I would like to write a thank you note, or sign a card or check legibly but can’t”

“I gave up writing years ago” “I can’t even read my own handwriting”

As an occupational therapist (OT) I have heard these types of concerns from many folks navigating the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Many of these folks have noted the decline in their handwriting for some time. In fact, the trend toward writing smaller and smaller words (also called micrographia) is often one of the earliest symptoms of the disease.

Can you relate? Has your handwriting gotten smaller to the point that it is no longer legible, even to you?

Should I care about recovering my handwriting?

Let’s face it, we don’t have to write near as much as we used to. We can type or dictate grocery lists into our phones. Many of us no longer write checks. We send birthday and holiday greetings via Facebook. Even legal signatures can now be obtained using online apps such as DocuSign. Should I care about my declining ability to write?

If you and I were sitting at your kitchen table discussing this issue I would ask a few questions. The primary focus of an occupational therapist is to help you attain or maintain the “occupations” that are most meaningful to you. Occupations are activities that occupy your time. So, my first question would be “how important is writing to you?” For some people it is not important, and they do not miss writing that much. However, most people do occasionally still need to sign their name, especially on medical, legal and financial forms. Yes, you can make

an “X” or have your power of attorney sign for you, but is that what you want? Are you ready for that?

For others, like me, writing is an important part of their life. Perhaps they want to journal their experiences or spiritual journey, take notes on a lecture, or book they are reading. Some might want to write a heartfelt note to a friend, or letter to a grandchild to show them the pleasure of reading and writing letters.

Should I care about recovering my handwriting? As your OT, at least while you are reading this, I would say it depends. It depends on how valuable writing is to you as compared with all the other activities you do. However, stick with me because I am going to try and make the case for the value of handwriting in helping to retrain your brain.

Can recovering my handwriting help me retrain my brain?

I think it may. Let me walk you through my thinking. I have been certified in LSVT BIGTM for over three years now and I am convinced that it is possible to retrain your brain to overcome the slow, small movements that are common with PD. I have seen many clients go from taking slow, small shuffling steps or freezing to walking confidently and “normally” in their home and community. With intensive training from a certified OT and/ or physical therapist they learn and

practice moving “bigger”. What happens with PD is the small, slow movements start to feel normal. The person with PD honestly does not feel like they are moving differently than anyone else (especially initially). LSVT BIGTM therapy helps clients to recalibrate their thinking about their movement patterns so they are closer to a normal size and rate. I invite you to follow this link if you would like to know more about how LSVT BIG could help you. I should also mention

there is over 30 years of research supporting the effectiveness of the training technique. The training is based on harnessing the power of neuroplasticity. I know you know about neuroplasticity. It is the exciting fact that our brains are plastic or moldable. If one part of our brain starts to fail our brains can recruit and “train” new neurons to take on the task. I would direct you to Colleen’s excellent blog for a description of the science behind our thinking and actions. We therapists refer to it as motor learning. Let me summarize the principles that

change the brain and build new neuropathways: the activity must be challenging but not impossible, it has to be valuable or interesting to you and require repetition (a lot of it). It is one of the reasons boxing is so effective. Boxing is challenging, but not impossible (unless you are me trying to follow one of Seb’s advanced boxing moves). People enjoy it and see the value for their health, and there is lots of repetition.

Ok, what does that have to do with handwriting? I am glad you asked! Learning to recover your handwriting follows the principles of motor learning. Writing larger is challenging (but not impossible, especially if you use some helpful tools), it may be very valuable to you (to sign your legal documents or write to your grandchildren, or keep your journal), so you are motivated to do it, and you can keep practicing until it becomes second nature to write legibly.

What can I do to recover my handwriting?

You have read this far so you must be interested. Let’s try an experiment. Get yourself two sheets of paper, one with lines like notebook paper and one without lines.

On the paper without lines write your name as you normally do (print or cursive is fine).

Now on the paper with the lines write your name using at least 2 lines (yes, like you did when you were in elementary school)

How did that go? Where you able to write bigger and more legibly using the lined paper?

Who am I?

I am an occupational therapist with over 30 years of experience working with adults with neurological disorders. I am passionate about empowering people live their best life in their own home. In addition to providing LSVT BIG therapy, I can also help with recommendations for easy changes to your home to make it safer and easier to get around. I can teach you how to navigate cognitive, emotional as well as physical changes so you can remain as independent as

possible. Please see the attached self-screen form for a list of ways I can help you. If you live in Williamson County I can come to your home. If you are outside of my driving range I can provide some services via Telehealth. Please reach out to me through www. to schedule a Free 30 min consultation via Zoom or phone so we can discuss your needs. My services are typically covered by Medicare B and a Supplemental. I look forward to hearing from you!


Dr. Johnson (Carlene)

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