Johnston Uses 3D Printing to Meet Needs of Alzheimer's Center Residents

Thanks to a collaborative effort between the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith and Methodist Village Senior Living, Alzheimer's residents can now enjoy a new variety of recreational items to enrich their days.


Faculty in the UAFS College of Applied Science and Technology's 3D printing lab worked with Methodist Village CEO Melissa Curry to develop an initial set of 3D-printed nuts and bolts to aid residents' cognitive stimulation.


"The faculty at UAFS are deeply skilled, both as educators and as experts in their fields," said Dr. Terisa Riley, chancellor of UAFS. "It's exciting to see our mission as a comprehensive regional institution fulfilled in their commitment to serving the citizens of the River Valley through innovative partnerships like these."

Curry explained the care that goes into selecting items, explaining, "When planning for our Alzheimer's Special Care Community, we knew it was important to have the right sensory stimulation."


Throughout the facility, Curry demonstrated experiential centers for painting, gardening, fishing, cooking, and more, all designed with deep intentionality to support memory care residents.


"We ordered life-like robotic cats and dogs for allergen-free pet therapy and installed interactive art throughout the halls," she said. Though the Alzheimer's Center attempted to replicate sensory activities every patient could relate to, 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.


For those residents, Curry envisioned a potential partnership with UAFS. She asked Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the UAFS College of Applied Science and Technology, if he could facilitate the creation of a few sets of 3D-printed nuts and bolts that would be reminiscent of work they may recall from their youth.

Warden worked with Max Johnston, assistant professor of computer graphic technology at UAFS, to design 20 sets of large-scale, lightweight nuts and bolts that were 3D printed with soft plastic in visually stimulating colors.


As Curry finished a tour of the facility, she led Riley, Warden, and Johnston into a room filled with laughter and a table stacked with disassembled objects. "This is an Alzheimer's resident who loves to 'fix' things," Curry explained with a smile. As Johnston opened the box, presenting his creations, the resident beamed. "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."


"I was honored to meet the resident for whom the nuts and bolts were initially created," said Riley, "and incredibly impressed seeing the intentionality of Max Johnston's design in action."


"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."

The 3D printing courses at UAFS are among a number of classes in the college that evolve to meet the community's need. As industry and community partners find new applications for these courses, UAFS instructors modify their lessons to keep students on the cutting edge, keeping their degrees highly valuable, and their skills workforce ready.


Students enrolled in the UAFS computer graphic technology program learn the underlying skills (AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, SolidWorks, etc.) that then enable them to design and create products that can be prototyped rapidly with the 3D printers on campus.


"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."

Rachel Rodemann Putman
Photo Credits: 
Rachel Rodemann Putman
Date Posted: 
Thursday, August 1, 2019
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