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Posted on Feb 16 2021 by Jo Lehmann

How hedgehogs are helping improve hand movement in people with brain injuries

Did you know that hedgehogs have over 5,000 spines? And at night, they can cover over two miles while foraging for food? They’re inspirational, hard-working little critters!

Here at St Andrew’s our patients with acquired brain injuries have being inspired by our nocturnal friends to get creative, and it has helped them to improve their mobility. How? Well, by using clay to make model hedgehogs!

Modelling materials such as clay have huge potential for learning; it is a tactile and accessible material, which people of all abilities can work with. Moulding shapes allows for artistic expression, while also helping to improve hand mobility.

St Andrew's Physiotherapist Jyothi Kraleti and Senior Occupational Therapist Gemma Ruggieror were the brains behind the project.

Jyothi explained: "Clay model making is an extremely calming and rewarding activity. We recently held a series of creative sessions to see how it can benefit our patients who have an acquired brain injury with upper limb function, including hand dexterity, bilateral coordination and fine motor control.”

In this short video recorded at one of the sessions, the patients create their own clay hedgehogs, which were moulded into shape before being painted.

Jyothi continued: "There is little research into interventions such as this for people with acquired brain injury and other neurological conditions, but we were inspired by a recent research paper that focussed on clay modelling with patients who have Parkinson’s disease. This research showed a marked increase in hand dexterity following an 8-week course of sessions.”

In the St Andrew's study, 10 female patients - all of whom have an acquired brain injury - were given weekly clay modelling and painting activities. The patients were given basic instructions and were challenged to complete the activity within the session, however they were also given adequate support and guidance to accomplish each task. The hedgehogs were just one of the creative projects the patients undertook during the programme.

Jyothi continued: "We assessed each patients' motor functions throughout each of the sessions. The patients were blinded in the sense that they did not know that they were being assessed at the time."

Gemma added: “This was a great example of how non-pharmacological therapy, play and art can come together to help improve patients' motor function. The sessions had other positive benefits, including social interaction and mental relaxation, both of which can also play a major role in motor recovery."