Medical & Dental

3D printing offers blessing to Alzheimer’s residents in Arkansas

The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith (UAFS) has collaborated with Methodist Village Senior Living to provide Alzheimer’s residents with 3D printed recreational items. 

A not-for-profit organization, Methodist Village is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for the elderly population in the Arkansas River Valley. The CEO of the organization, Melissa Curry, worked with faculty from the UAFS College of Applied Science and Technology’s 3D printing lab to develop objects designed to stimulate residents’ cognitive function.  Dr. Terisa Riley, chancellor of UAFS, was pleased by the 3D printing efforts put forth by the university to help the residents:

Melissa Curry and the staff at Methodist Village do such meaningful work empowering residents in their Alzheimer’s Center, and I was delighted to witness our university’s contribution to support the mission of providing quality experiences that help their residents to live full and enriching lives.”

Members from UAFS and Methodist Village with the 3D printed nuts and bolts. Photo via UAFS.
Members from UAFS and Methodist Village with the 3D printed nuts and bolts. Photo via UAFS.

Using 3D printing to provide care that caters to everyone 

Methodist Village provides various levels of affordable and transitional housing for the elderly population of River Valley. It includes 96 retirement apartment units and 145 long-term care or skilled nursing home beds. The aim is to provide extraordinary care, meeting the needs and expectations of its residents. It also houses an Alzheimer’s Center, which includes various experiential centers for painting, gardening, fishing, cooking, and more. Each are designed to support memory care residents, with much consideration and thought given to the sensory items: “When planning for our Alzheimer’s Special Care Community, we knew it was important to have the right sensory stimulation,” explained Curry. 

Examples include life-like robotic cats and dogs, designed for allergen-free pet therapy, as well as installations of interactive art placed throughout the halls of the center. The items are intended to replicate sensory activities that patients can relate to, having taken part in them when they were younger. However, Methodist Village is aware that many patients did not spend their early years at a garden or with pets, some having devoted time to manual labor, operating heavy equipment with their hands at work. 

In order to cater to these residents, Curry sought a partnership with UAFS. Contacting Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the UAFS College of Applied Science and Technology, Curry asked if the university could help produce a few sets of 3D printed nuts and bolts, reminiscent of work that the residents may recall from their youth. In response, Warden worked with Max Johnston, assistant professor of Computer Graphic Technology at UAFS, to design 20 sets of large-scale, lightweight nuts and bolts. Each was 3D printed in soft plastic, designed with visually stimulating colors.

“As a comprehensive regional university, we strive to provide whatever our partners need,” said Warden. 

“This 3D printing project highlights how our programs can work with outside constituents to educate our students while addressing a community need. These projects give our students a context for their learning; they validate our programming and engage our students with ‘real-world’ applications.” 

Riley, Warden and Johnston were given a tour of the facility by Curry, where she showed them how the new 3D printed sensory items have been received by the residents. Curry brought them over to an Alzheimer’s resident who loved to ‘fix’ things and put them together. When presented with the nuts and bolts, he appeared delighted. “He was the first to use the nuts and bolts, immediately gravitating toward them, filling his pockets with them for future objects that may need fixing,” Curry added. “These have already been an incredible blessing to him, and will be to many others in the years to come.”

Residents at Methodist village engaged in recreational activities. Photo via Methodist Village Senior Living.
Residents at Methodist village engaged in recreational activities. Photo via Methodist Village Senior Living.

Treating Alzheimer’s with 3D printing

Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative disease, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Approximately 5.7 million Americans suffer from the disease, and it is estimated that this number will reach 14 million by 2050. 

As well as aiding those with Alzheimer’s disease on a day-to-day basis, 3D printing is also considered key to understanding the condition, and various other brain diseases. 

A technical review written by a team at the University of Manchester in the UK suggests that 3D bioprinting is a significant tool that researchers require to discover the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. According to the paper, the quality of test models made to mimic the structure of the brain “increased significantly” when using bioinks and 3D bioprinting. 

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Aspect Biosystems, a Vancouver-based biotechnology company, are also using bioprinting to study and treat the causes of Alzheimer’s

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Featured image shows members from UAFS and Methodist Village with the 3D printed nuts and bolts. Photo via UAF.