Legos a form of therapy for multiple sclerosis patients

Kathleen Jordan spread out dozens of Legos on the table in front of her. She started matching the like shapes and colors into their own, individual piles.

“Sorting them is one of my favorite parts,” said Kathleen, a former Fort Knox, Kentucky, military lawyer turned life coach. “It helps keep my mind sharp.”

Kathleen has battled multiple sclerosis (MS) since 2007, though she admits there were symptoms dating back to the 1980s. During this time, she’s encountered vision problems, challenges with leg and hand movements, and lapses in cognitive function.

“With MS, it’s like your brain just gets cross wired,” she said. “You can lose coordination and the ability to work through challenges.”

Turning to Legos as a form of therapy

One random day two years ago, Kathleen walked through the aisles of a local thrift store. There she found a large, black garbage bag full of Legos. On a whim, she purchased the bag and took them home.

“I thought it might be fun to make figurines and some small scenes,” she said. “Something to keep my mind sharp and my hands moving.”

Every day, Kathleen would work on her scenes. At first it was very challenging, sometimes even frustrating.

“MS makes it tough to recognize patterns, follow instructions and move around little pieces,” she said. “Legos require all three of those things ,so naturally it wasn’t an easy hobby.”

But that was part of the point. Not only did it provide Kathleen something to do, it gave her a challenge, a goal to improve herself. It worked. Before she knew it, she had built more than 60 scenes.

“Legos helped revive my brain,” she said. “My hands started to work better and my critical thinking skills vastly improved.”

Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center starts Lego program

Kathleen realized she was onto something and wanted to share her therapy with others. She took the idea for a Lego class to the Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center. The center offers a variety of programs for Norton Healthcare patients with MS, Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders. Following discussion with a collaborative team of MS experts, Kathleen’s idea gave rise to the Lego therapy program.

“Programs like this provide very important outlets for neurological patients,” said Heather Osborne, the resource center’s program coordinator. “Not only does it challenge them but it also gets them outside the home and interacting with their peers. The comradery and social connection is just as important as physical treatment.”

Kathleen agreed.

“I’ve been coming to the resource center for 12 years,” she said. “The programs have been lifesaving in my battle with this disease.”

The Lego program launched in January 2019. Nearly a dozen MS patients meet Tuesdays at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital. For 10 weeks, they put together figurines, like dogs, robots or buildings. They also spend the last part of each class working on a group project — a Lego village that they plan to enter into the Kentucky State Fair this summer.

In just a few weeks, Kathleen has noticed a change in her peers.

“It might seem silly, but for someone with MS, Legos can be very intimidating,” she said. “Each week everyone becomes more confident, not just in their ability to build things, but also in life. Plus we like to laugh a lot. It’s just a good time.”

Norton Neuroscience Institute looking at how program impacts patients

As the program progresses, Norton Neuroscience Institute is looking at how the participants are changing, both physically and mentally.

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“The participants performed in assessments to address physical, psychosocial, and cognitive functioning before starting the Lego therapy,” said Amber Brennan, occupational therapist with Norton Specialty Rehabilitation Center – St. Matthews. “They will be retested after 10 weeks to determine if these areas have improved, as a result of their participation.”

There’s already improvement.

“I can see that it’s helping their coordination and perception,” Amber said. “I’m even starting to incorporate Legos into my work with non-MS patients. Everyone loves it.”

Hoping to grow the program

The Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center is looking to grow the program and hold courses several times per year.

“We think we’re really onto something and hope to offer more Lego therapy to more patients,” Heather said.

If they do, Kathleen will be first in line.

“It’s such an adventure to find the Lego pieces you need, and sometimes you have to get creative and make it work —just like living with MS,” she said. “This makes therapy fun.”

If you’d like to support the program, you can make a donation through the Norton Healthcare Foundation.

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