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