Occupational Therapy for Friedreich’s Ataxia

Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) is a progressive disease that results in a loss of muscle control. This can cause problems with carrying out everyday tasks, as patients develop symptoms like walking difficulties, slurred speech (dysarthria), fatigue, and a loss of fine motor control. Because FA is a progressive disorder, these symptoms gradually develop over time and vary between individuals. There is currently no cure, so treatments focus on managing the symptoms of the condition.

Patients with FA will often be referred to an occupational therapist who can help identify aspects of daily life that are causing problems and can give advice on how the patient can approach these issues to maintain independence for as long as possible.

This can be through recommending and teaching a patient to use assistive equipment such as wheelchairs, for example. Occupational therapists may be able to advise patients or caregivers on how to adapt the home to make it easier for the patient, or suggest techniques to make a task more manageable.

Occupational therapy for Friedreich’s ataxia is highly tailored to the lifestyle and symptoms of the individual patient and a recommendation given to one patient may not benefit another.

Mobility aids

The most common symptom of FA is difficulty walking. Patients experience a loss of mobility over time, and the majority of them require a wheelchair a decade or two after the first symptoms appear.

In general, an occupational therapist will be able to recommend which mobility devices will be able to aid the patient in walking for as long as possible. They will often be involved in deciding when to switch to using a wheelchair, what type of wheelchair would be best for the individual, and teaching them how to adapt to using it.

Techniques and strategies

The occupational therapist can give advice on techniques to cope with fatigue based on the individual’s lifestyle. They can help the patient develop the skills needed to cope with changes in mobility and coordination, and how to effectively use any aids they recommend.

Assistive technologies

Based on the needs and problems the patient is facing, an occupational therapist may be able to suggest devices that can help the patient continue to carry out particular tasks as their condition progresses.

If the patient has tremors or reduced coordination, an occupational therapist may be able to help them find electronic devices with buttons that are larger and easier to press. Reduced coordination can also cause problems while eating. Examples of potential methods of getting around this include nonslip mats, lidded cups, rocker knives, and weighted cutlery, which the occupational therapist can recommend.

If using a keyboard and mouse is challenging, the occupational therapist could recommend voice-activated software, if the patient is not experiencing dysarthria (difficult or unclear articulation of speech).

Adapting the environment

An occupational therapist can identify ways to adjust frequently used locations, such as the home, workplace, or school to overcome common problems. For example, if the patient is experiencing problems with balance, installing nonslip flooring may help prevent falls. Railings can help improve mobility or to access facilities such as the toilet and shower more easily. Larger adaptations include installing a stair lift.

If a patient is using a wheelchair, light switches could be moved lower to be more accessible, or replaced with a pull cord. Patients could also be helped by moving commonly used wall sockets away from the ground (to waist height, for example) to avoid having to bend or squat to reach them.


Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.