Tailor making assistive devices using 3D printing technology

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Authors (including presenting author) :
Wong SY(1), Cheng CKJ(1), Pang WMA(1)
Affiliation :
(1)Occupational Therapy Department, Kwong Wah Hospital
Introduction :
Tailor-making assistive devices for patients is one of the major roles of occupational therapists. Various types of assistive devices are aimed at improving patients’ performance in activities of daily living (ADL), work and leisure, and hence, can improve their quality of life. Different patients have individual needs arising from their diagnosis and condition. For example, patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), who suffer from joint pain and deformity, might need buttoning aids or jar openers to improve their independence in activities of daily living and to protect their joints; and patients with spinal cord injury, who suffer from poor hand function, might need keyboard typing aids for work and communication. Although there are a lot of commercial aids and gadgets available in the market, occupational therapists still need to tailor make assistive devices for patients as not every special need can be met with the commercial products. Traditionally, we used different materials like low-temperature thermoplastic, metal plate or wires, wood and fabric to make the assistive devices. However, there were a few limitations – (1) difficulties in making the aids precisely by hands, (2) difficulties in reproducing the same aids perfectly, and (3) consuming time in aids fabrication. To break through the limitations and improve the service, 3D printing technology may be a possible option to be incorporated into occupational therapy service.
Objectives :
The objectives of this study were to improve the quality of occupational therapy service provision using 3D printing technology in tailor-making assistive devices.
Methodology :
The patients were assessed for their need of assistive devices. The assistive devices were designed using computer-aided design software and printed by a fused deposition modeling 3D printer. After printing the assistive devices, the patients were educated to use the aids to perform functional tasks.
Result & Outcome :
Two patients were selected into this study. One patient who suffered from RA worked at a clinic and needed to draw blood and wound cleansing. It was difficult for her to do precise hand movement, assemble small tools and hold the small tools to draw blood and cleanse the wound. We designed two special aids for assisting the patient to assemble blood drawing tools and use the forceps for cleansing the wound. The patient could perform blood drawing and wound cleansing easier and the pain over her fingers decreased. Another patient suffered from cerebral palsy with limited forearm pronation and fingers movement. He needed to use the computer and type on the keyboard for work. It was difficult for him to type on the keyboard precisely and in a comfortable position. A typing aid was specially designed for him to facilitate the typing action. The patient reported he was able to work precisely and faster. 3D printing technology is a new way for tailor making assistive devices. It can produce different aids with precise dimensions so that it can realize the innovative ideas of occupational therapists. Moreover, it is easy to reproduce the same aids for the same patient and it can reduce the manpower and time to make the aids. 3D printing technology can be applied into occupational therapy service and improve the service.

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