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3D Printed Adaptive Aids Can Benefit Arthritis Patients

3D Printed Adaptive Aids Can Benefit Arthritis Patients

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  • 3D printers can be used to print daily adaptive aids that help severely disabled arthritis patients perform routine daily tasks such as opening doors or holding a spoon or toothbrush
  • The 3D printed aids are made of plastic and highly cost-effective and much cheaper compared to commercially available aids, which are expensive and can also be designed as per the patient’s needs
  • Arthritis is a painful and disabling condition of the elderly involving the joints; currently over 50 million persons are affected worldwide and figures are expected to touch 80 million by 2040

3D printers can be used to custom print arthritis adaptive aids according to the patient's needs at a much lesser cost, according to a recent study at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech to test the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of 3D printed products in comparison to existing arthritis aids.

In general, arthritis patients on an average spend 10-12 percent of their income on medical treatment. Commercially available adaptive aids to help with cutting, holding spoons or brushes or pull zippers are very expensive.


The findings of the study, co-authored by Joshua Pearce, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech, student research assistant Nicole Gallup and orthopedic surgeon Jennifer Bow, who is a visiting scholar at Michigan Tech appear in the journal Geriatrics.

Why Use 3D Printed Arthritis Aids?

In the study, Prof Pearce made the students in his class 3D print arthritis aids using plastic as the raw material and analyzed how useful and cost effective they were in comparison to commercially available aids. The findings of the study were as follows:
  • Cost effective - For example, a commercially available pop can opener for $5.99 can be 3D printed for 45 cents, pill splitter for $23.75 can be printed for $1.27 and a phone holder costing $49.99 can be printed for 79 cents.
  • Can be designed to fit the needs of the patient - While printing the shape and size of the arthritis aids can be altered to suit the requirements of the patient
  • Makes the patient self-reliant and not dependent on others for routine tasks
Thus, the findings of the study suggest that 3D printed arthritis aids made of plastic are highly cost-effective and can be customized to suit the patient's needs making them independent for routine tasks.

"This is the difference between needing to go to someone to get your nails cut and being able to do your own, which, yes, there are cost savings, but it's also personal pride and being able to take care of yourself," Pearce said. "And if your only problem is that the standard nail clipper is too tiny, we can fix that."

Possible Drawbacks and Ways to Overcome Them

Initial cost of 3D printer is high - 3D printers are costly and the price may be a barrier for many to invest in one. However, a person affected with arthritis may need several arthritis aids such as toothbrush holder, phone holder, light switch flipper etc and the costs may keep increasing.
  • For the study, the team in fact used 3D printers costing $500 or less
Insurance and Medicare pays for the aids - For some patients' insurance policy such as Medicare may cover the costs partially.
  • However, the study team feel it may not help much in the long - term
Lack of technical and computer knowledge in the elderly - Many elderly may not know how to operate a 3D printer to print their product.
  • The team suggest that 3D printed arthritis aids can still be accessible to the average person by installing these devices in public places such as clinics, physiotherapy centers, hospitals, or even libraries or the marketplace where technical persons will be able to help patients design and custom print their arthritis aids in a cost-effective manner for a nominal fee. In fact, 3D printing can be taken up as a profitable business by enterprising individuals.


3D printing of arthritis aids is just one of the several applications of 3D printing in medicine and will no doubt benefit thousands of patients worldwide and improve their quality of life.
  1. Economic Potential for Distributed Manufacturing of Adaptive Aids for Arthritis Patients in the U.S. - (https://doi.org/10.3390/geriatrics3040089)

Source: Medindia

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