UAFS, Arkansas Senior Residence Use 3D Technology to Aid Recreational Therapy

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by Mary Chapman |

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To foster the cognitive stimulation of its Alzheimer’s disease (AD) residents, an Arkansas senior living center collaborated with the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith (UAFS) to produce recreational 3D-printed items.

A set of large-scale, lightweight, and colorful plastic nuts and bolts were made especially for those Methodist Village Senior Living memory-care residents who used to primarily use their hands for a living, perhaps as manual laborers or factory workers.

“When planning for our Alzheimer’s Special Care Community, we knew it was important to have the right stimulation,” Melissa Curry, Methodist Village’s CEO, said in a press release.

To that end, Curry ordered life-like robotic dogs and cats for allergen-free pet therapy, and put interactive art in hallways. To further support residents with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, the facility also established experiential centers for activities such as painting, fishing, and cooking. The hope was that by providing a range of replicated sensory activities, all residents would have something to which they could relate.

But that wasn’t quite the case.

“There are many patients who hadn’t spent their young lives at a garden or with pets, but on the job, operating heavy equipment and putting their hands to work,” Curry said.

That’s where the partnership with the university came in. Curry asked Ken Warden, dean of the UAFS College of Applied Science and Technology, if he would help produce sets of 3D-printed nuts and bolts that might remind such residents of their working years. Warden in turn called upon Max Johnston, a UAFS computer graphic technology professor. The result was a set of large-sized, lightweight nuts and bolts three-dimensionally printed with plastic in stimulating hues. Some 19 more sets are to come.

“The faculty at UAFS are deeply skilled, both as educators and as experts in their fields,” said Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor.

During a tour of the Fort Smith facility, Curry introduced Warden, Johnston, and Riley to an Alzheimer’s resident who enjoys “fixing” things. When Warden presented him with the box of nuts and bolts, the resident beamed at the sight, Curry said.

“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,” she said. “These have already been an incredible blessing to him, and will be to many others in the years to come.”

The printing process makes three-dimensional solid objects from a computer-aided design model. As part of UAFS’ computer graphic technology program, students learn how to design and create different products, which can be swiftly prototyped using campus 3D printers.

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

In addition to helping patients, the technology could be an important tool in understanding the cause of Alzheimer’s, and developing treatments, researchers said. Roughly 5.8 million U.S. residents of all ages live with AD, including 200,000 under age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The nonprofit Methodist Village aims to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens in the Arkansas River Valley.