Healthcare is one field that seems to change daily, but many advancements steer away from the group who needs them most: the elderly. While there are undoubtedly many charities and organizations dedicated to finding cures and treatments for illnesses impacting the elderly, the truth is that these illnesses are simply harder to treat. However, one piece of technology has become a new diagnostic and treatment tool: the 3D printer. But how would 3D printing help the elderly?
First, 3D printing has allowed doctors to print diagnostic tools to help evaluate patients while they are at home. For example, a doctor could print a casing (similar to a cast, but with more flexibility) to go around a patient’s leg. In this casing are sensors that will pick up even the slightest movement. This can help doctors determine where problem areas really lie, and could eventually help physical therapists show their patients how to move properly. Beyond this, I can also see the possibility of a device that sits on a patient’s chest to monitor breathing during sleep, or even one that would measure heart rate over a period of time to discover any persisting problems.
The second way we may see 3D printing take over in elder care is through small devices used to help with everyday objects. These assistive technologies can easily attach to a patient’s hand and help with opening cans, writing, and other daily tasks. There are several diseases and conditions which affect the elderly’s ability to steady their hands, and some problems affect the ability to grab objects. Once these tools are printed, there is only a small learning curve before patients are back to living a normal life.
Another application that may help both the elderly and the young is 3D printed prosthetic limbs. Many veterans struggle with holding down jobs or living normal lives because of war injuries or amputations, and this problem previously had no good solution. However, 3D printed limbs are becoming so effective that doctors believe patients with them will be able to live normal lives, including working a regular job.
3D printing still has plenty of room to grow, and doctors will continue to innovate and study new ways to involve it in their practice. I believe that we will one day see 3D printers in every doctor’s office, and maybe one day we will take 3D printed medicine. All of this is good news for the elderly, who are often forgotten, and may once again be front-and-center in healthcare innovation.