Senior citizens might really like – and use – a 3D printer. 3D printers can save arthritis patients money by more cheaply manufacturing plastic gadgets that help them do routine tasks like open jars and put on socks.
By 2040, about one-quarter of the U.S. population is expected to have arthritis – a physical ailment making joint movements difficult and painful. In addition to their health care expenses, arthritis patients often have additional needs that do not show up on medical bills and are not covered by insurance. For example, people with arthritic hands can find daily tasks like opening jars – or even eating with a spoon – to be cumbersome and painful. Many companies make and sell adaptive aids like specially shaped spoons and special handles that makes a toothbrush easier to hold. Some patients need dozens of these sorts of items, to help with various daily tasks. But those devices can be expensive – a basic adaptive spoon can cost US$25, vastly more than a standard spoon in any shop.
Other assistive items like key holders and pill-splitters can help arthritis patients continue to live independently. Though many of these items are made of cheap plastic, the costs can be prohibitively high for poor people as well as better-off people living on fixed incomes. Research I participated in found that using free online designs and a basic 3D printer to make these assistive aids can save arthritis patients more than 94 percent of the cost of the commercially available products. A typical adaptive aid costs about $25; a 3D printed one costs about a dollar. That generates savings that add up to more than cover the cost of the printer itself.
What would Grandparents make?
There are dozens of adaptive aids that can be printed for pennies, helping with tasks like refueling a car, chopping vegetables and using scissors.
How Can You Get 3D Printed Aids?
Making adaptive aids using a 3D printer is particularly useful because of how easy it is to customize printed items for a person’s hand size or personal aesthetic. The software programs that make and modify designs, and that control 3D printers, are getting easier to use; in any case, many older people are technically adept. In fact, some of the best 3D printable designs for recyclebots were made by a retired engineer.
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