Inaccessible packaging can threaten composure and life itself

Judith Davey


Reading through “Joint Support”, the Arthritis New Zealand newsletter, recently (March 2018), I came upon an article about a packaging survey initiated by the organisation. Although this was aimed at people of all ages who have arthritis, it got me thinking about how the challenges of packaging access will apply to many older people, with or without the condition – and I am well aware how these challenges have already confronted me!

Packaging access problems

Medical products

Requirements for safety of medical products can compromise ease of access to them.  Packaging must protect products from contamination, tampering and damage without making them too difficult to open. The physical action of opening the packaging usually requires some manual strength and dexterity. If users have impaired cognitive, visual, or physical abilities as a result of illness, disability, or old age, the task of opening packaging can be a major inconvenience, even when their independence or even their lives depend on the medication. Being unable to open packaging may make people less likely to adhere to their medication regimen and so to manage their medical conditions.

Everyday grocery items

About a third of respondents to the Arthritis NZ survey said they struggled with the pull-tab seals on plastic milk bottles, either because the tab wasn’t big enough or because they had lost grip and strength in their hands. This was top of the list of hard-to-open packaging, here and in other surveys.

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Next came child-proof lids – “push and turn” – which require strength for the push-down action and problematic when a twisting action is needed at the same time.

A third set of culprits, which I am sure most of you will have come across, are products encased in hard shrink-wrap plastic, such as tooth brushes, batteries and small tools. Users have to pull apart both sides of the casing, often held together with a strong adhesive and often without a notch indicating where to tear. How often someone end up throwing away the product without using it?

Inaccessible packaging can cause malnutrition

For older people with reduced dexterity even something seemingly trivial, like not being able to open food packaging, can be a major obstacle to eating well. This is often an issue in hospitals, particularly when there is no-one to help patients open single serve and portion-controlled food items.  A Canadian study of 132 cognitively healthy nursing home residents found that 37% were at risk of malnutrition—and food packaging was identified as one of the primary contributing factors.

Access-related injuries

Another consequence of Inaccessible packaging is increased numbers of injuries caused when people resort to the use of tools such as scissors, sharp knives, razor blades, or even hammers in order to break through packaging. An investigation carried out by “Which” magazine in the UK suggested that, over a two-year period, 25 million people hurt themselves while trying to open packaging.  Not to mention wrist strain from trying to loosen jam jar and broken teeth!

Comments from the Arthritis survey

“I find my nutcracker very effective on salad dressing bottles.”

“A teaspoon can be used to open jam jars.”

“I need to use pliers on tins with pull tabs.”


Wrap rage

‘Wrap Rage’ is defined by Wikipedia as “the common name for heightened levels of anger or frustration resulting from the inability to open packaging”. How common is this? Not to mention public embarrassment and lack of independence by having to rely on other people (to open things – perhaps the last bastion of male “superiority”)[1].

Next time I will look at the problem from the manufacturers’ point of view.




About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit
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3 Responses to Inaccessible packaging can threaten composure and life itself

  1. lifecameos says:

    I have to use the my sharp nosed pliers to open the cap on toilet cleaner bottles. Ridiculous !


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