Yes – Older people blog and it is good for them*

10/08/2018

Judith Davey

Rachel McAlpine, a well-known New Zealand author and poet, and myself, are both bloggers and both would admit to being “older”. Rachel had been wondering about older bloggers, a community which she says is “pretty well hidden from the rest of the world”. Most of the research on the “blogosphere” is related to business or professional blogs and has a commercial motive. But, could personal blogging be a valuable tool to provide mental, emotional, and social stimulation for older people, and, for some, a way to reduce social isolation?

This was the rationale for the Older Bloggers’ survey, launched by Rachel, with help from me. We used Survey Monkey and promoted it mainly through Rachel’s blog “Write into Life” (she has hundreds of followers and I have hardly any). By the time it was closed, in late June, there were 120 responses from a wide geographical range – half from the USA, followed by the UK, with New Zealand third; 11 countries in all.

“Older” was self-defined and 16% of the respondents were under 55 years. Nearly three-quarters were in the 55 to 74 age group and 11% 75 or older (only one 85 plus). Does this represent the “baby-boom” generation? Or perhaps the first cohort to reach middle-age with experience of communication via computers and the internet?

The questionnaire asked about technicalities – time spent blogging or following others, difficulties with publication, etc. These results will be useful for education and service provision. But more relevant for us is why people blog and what they feel are the benefits.

Why do you blog?
Respondents were asked to choose up to three reasons from a long list. Interestingly, the most frequently responses were personal – “to express my creativity”; “I just enjoy it.” Comments along these lines included:

Mostly I just feel I need to get my thoughts into words, and if someone likes what I write, that’s a bonus.

It allows me a reason to dig deep with research on something I’m interested in.

I started out writing a journal of our travels because I didn’t want to forget a special part of our retirement.

Blogging is about keeping ME inspired. It provides the impetus to stay engaged, keep setting goals, keeps feeding my curiosity. I didn’t want my days to drift aimlessly into one another.

Some people mentioned psychological benefits from blogging:

Blogging keeps one’s mind active in old age, hopefully delaying age-related dementia.

Good therapy to write about my life.

I live alone, but I’m not lonely

Respondents wanted to share their knowledge and passions; their stories; to entertain or to inspire others. Some to teach:

I hear so many complain about helping their parents with their phones/tablets. I wanted to create a “safe” place to share my love of mobile devices. Where anyone felt they could learn and not have to be made to feel dumb by their kids or grandchildren.

I started to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others, and mental health is still a core topic for me.

I originally started writing from a more traditional view of ‘living sustainably’ and noticed how tricky I found it to change my habits and thought it might be helpful to share this so that others can see that it is not easy but we should try anyway, and that every change makes a difference.

To connect with other (like-minded) people was also an important reason, often starting with family or friends.

Historically I began to keep in touch with friends and family. Blogging has brought far more friends and taken me down byways I would never otherwise have travelled.

Sharing my letters to my mother with my family and a regular letter to an old friend who lives far away. I have made new friends this way

Started out as a diary for myself, friends and family. Became far more enjoyable when I started to treat it as a social network.

The theme of meeting new people through blogging was very common. Often these became friends and sometimes the respondents met them in person.

Feelings
A further question asked “What feelings do you get from the experience of publishing, reading, and commenting on blogs?” Respondents were asked to respond using a five-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

blog table.JPG

The vast majority agreed on the personal benefits of blogging – giving satisfaction and happiness, and over half agreed that it helped them to feel that they were not alone – apparently lessening feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

This was also a common “side benefit” of blogging – respondents were asked whether they agreed with statements about what these effects might be.

blog 2

Overall benefits

Concluding comments were very positive about the benefits of blogging:

It makes me think about how happy I am and what I might change.

Blogging improves “mindfulness”/self-awareness.

Blogging helps me meet new people worlds apart. Blogging helps me continue to seek out new ideas and remain a life-long learner.

Of course, people who responded to the Older Bloggers’ survey were actively engaged in blogging, so they were likely to be positive. But I think we learned enough to assert that blogging has the potential to benefit older people and should be encouraged.

 

 


[1] Blog as a noun – a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

As a verb – to add new material to or regularly update a blog.

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Older People and Drugs – legal and illegal 2. Legal drug use and its consequences

Judith Davey
27/07/2018

Alcohol

I did not mention alcohol in my previous post on drugs. I looked at this in a blog about a year ago, quoting the 2012/13 New Zealand Health Survey (Older People and Alcohol in New Zealand, July 2017). This showed high levels of use, especially among 55 to 64-year-olds. The majority of older men and women drink safely. But, given their greater vulnerability to the physical effects of alcohol, their greater risk of chronic medical conditions and use of medicines incompatible with alcohol, there are still hazards and, in their more recent report, the Royal College of Psychiatrists questions whether hazardous drinking thresholds should be lower for older people.

As with illicit drug users, some older people fall into the ‘Early-onset’ problem drinkers category. These have been drinking harmfully for much of their adult lives, and continue to do so. Although I do not have any concrete evidence, it is possible that fewer older people actually start illicit drug use in their later years, but more may start to drink alcohol much more heavily, for reasons often associated with grief and loss, anxiety, depression, boredom, isolation, loneliness and chronic pain.

An issue with alcohol is its use in social environments. The RCP cover it in their report with an interesting conclusion -“Prevention of alcohol misuse needs to be balanced carefully against the role played by alcohol in maintaining social cohesion among older people.” Older people drink to be social, to enhance social situations or special occasions, and this may be beneficial for wellbeing and participation. How to find a happy medium?

The link between alcohol use and health is important. Apart from obvious effects such as intoxication, a wide range of health conditions have been linked to drinking, including liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, stroke and high blood pressure. Some of these may result from the cumulative effects of a lifetime of alcohol use. For the baby boom group (ages 50-69) alcohol rose from 16th to 5th among risk factors for years of life lost to disability in England between 1990 and 2013.[1]

Prescribed drugs

Which brings me to the issue of prescribed drugs. In England and Wales, the number of deaths related to opioids (used for pain relief and including drugs containing codeine and morphine) rose by 192% for people aged 50-69, as against 40% for people aged 30−39 over the last ten years. There was also a, less striking, rise for poisoning from cocaine, amphetamines and benzodiazepines. Legal amphetamines are used for weight loss and to treat ADHD. Benzodiazepines are prescribed as sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, and to help treat anxiety and epilepsy . Repeat prescribing of benzodiazepines is a common problem encountered in general practice. Misuse is associated with multiple risks, including falls and road traffic accidents. Dependence can lead to anxiety, depression and cognitive impairment.

Analgesics (a broad term for a variety of pain killers) can be either prescribed or over-the-counter medicines and are therefore fairly easily available – use is especially high for combatting back pain.  Their misuse includes people taking too-high doses; ‘borrowing’ from friends or relatives; combining them with alcohol and taking them over a very long period, resulting in physical and psychological dependence.

But is this abuse, or is it that pain is not being properly treated? How should health services react? The RCP report concludes that substance misuse in older adults constitutes a significant challenge to both public health and existing services. Addressing the problem will require raising public, professional and political awareness.  Drug use, whether legal or illegal, is another of those “lifestyle” factors which can damage wellbeing in later life, like smoking, poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Am I being too optimistic by suggestions that it may be easier to tackle?

I give the last word to the RCP. They suggest that the ideal approach is supportive, non-confrontational, and flexible.  Treatment must be sensitive to gender, given physiological differences in the metabolism of alcohol and other drugs between men and women. Cultural differences must also be taken into consideration, and there should be a focus on client social skills and social environments.

“Diverse approaches are required to minimise the health, social and economic consequences for a population of “baby boomers” who have the fastest increase in rates of substance misuse in the population. These include raising awareness, limiting availability of, and access to, substances, and improving access to care. Approaches to treatment and rehabilitation need to be tailored and adapted from those found to be effective in younger people, and development of novel approaches need to be prioritised.”

 

[1] Royal College of Psychiatrists  (2018) Our Invisible Addicts, 2nd edition. College Report CR211, London.  Smoking remains the top risk factor in this age group

 

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Older People and Drugs – legal and illegal 1. Illicit drug use and its consequences

Judith Davey
13/07/2018

It is well known that how we live our lives has a profound effect on how well we age and our wellbeing in later life. It is not just a case of what we do when we reach our sixties. I often wonder what young people are doing to their hearing when the sound at rock concerts can be palpably felt on the body; when exceedingly loud music is pumped directly into the ears through headphones. Let’s hope that advances in hearing aid technology keep up – both in efficacy and affordability. But that may be sour grapes on the part of an ageing kill-joy and, anyhow, it is not what I want to talk about in this and the following blog. I want to start with illicit drug use.

For those who can remember that far back in drug use history – in the 60s the fashion was LSD, in the 70s (and ongoing) cannabis, in the 80s and 90s Ecstasy, then “party pills” and now methamphetamine/P. This is not an exhaustive list, but it illustrates that we have had significant levels of illegal substance use for many decades.

Some sources suggest that at one stage New Zealand had the highest per capita rate of heroin use in the world and we may now top the world for marijuana use. A 2015 Global Drug Study found that, in the previous 12 months, more Kiwi respondents had smoked pot (32.5 percent) than tobacco (30.1 percent).

So the length of time that this smorgasbord of drugs has been around means that users are now reaching their fifties and beyond. A report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) in the UK in March of this year concluded that the proportion of older people with substance misuse is rising more rapidly than can be explained by the rise in the proportion of older people in the UK[1]. And the “baby boomer” population, who are all now aged over 50 is at the highest risk of rising substance misuse in the older population. These are the people who may have participated in and enjoyed the successive fashions for illicit drugs, which I mentioned at the beginning, so they could be exhibiting cumulative effects in the same way that earlier tobacco smoking can have long-lasting consequences. The RCP further conclude that the misuse of illicit drugs such as cannabis and amphetamines and prescription painkillers is a growing public health problem. And substance misuse in older people is associated with reduced life expectancy and accelerated ageing, which is further compounded by socio-economic deprivation and chronic mental and physical health problems.

The older heroin addict

The RCP reports that drug treatment services in the UK have increasing numbers of patients who are being maintained on opioid substitution treatment (to counter heroin addiction) into their 50s and beyond. It was once believed that illicit drug users ‘matured’ out of their drug use, but there is evidence that older heroin users do not reduce their use as they age.  Older people with a history of heroin dependence have poorer physical health and social functioning than their non-dependent peers and show high levels of depression, PTSD, anxiety, arthritis and hypertension, not to mention liver disease, through hepatitis C infection.

This may be an extreme result, but many years of illicit drug use may leave older people with poor physical health, reduced mobility and limited social support. Death rates in older people with substance misuse are higher than in the general older population.

This situation results in increased demands on a variety of services such as older people’s mental health, primary and social care, acute hospital services and help from the voluntary sector, not to mention criminal justice for continuing users. Often staff in these settings have little specialist knowledge of how to deal with the older people involved. Older people, with ongoing problems related to drug use have distinctive and varied  needs, requiring diverse responses from services. Hearing their voices and encouraging close links between health and social care services, as well as family and carers, will be needed.

It may also be difficult to place ageing drug users in mainstream residential care. Some countries (e.g. Denmark, Germany, Netherlands) have developed specialised nursing homes and accommodation services for this group, but there are concerns that this process may introduce stigmatisation and increase social exclusion.

But then there are the legal drugs – alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter remedies. How much of a problem are they in our ageing society? Next time……

 


[1] Royal College of Psychiatrists  (2018) Our Invisible Addicts, 2nd edition.

College Report CR211, London. The report also involved   the Royal College of

General Practitioners and the British Geriatrics Society. It follows on an earlier report published in 2011.

 

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It matters what we call older people

Judith Davey

29/06/2018

I once asked my students for examples of epithets used for older people. I got the usual: oldies, grey-hairs, wrinklies, geriatrics. And a new one, apparently from the USA – “geezers”. None were complimentary, but none as bad as one I heard from a government official once – “pre-dead”.

There has been ambivalence about ageing for millennia. On the positive side, throughout time leaders have been greeted with “Long Live  X!” The Old Testament is full of statements in which long life is seen as a reward from God.

The fear of the Lord prolongs days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened (Proverbs 10:27).

A grey head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31).

But Shakespeare, in the “Seven Ages of Man” speech[1], is not complimentary about old age. The sixth age is “the lean and slippered pantaloons…. his big manly voice turning again toward childish treble”. And the last scene of all “Is second childishness and mere oblivion. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

I like the Grimms’ story quoted by Simone de Beauvoir in The Coming of Age (1970, p. 135).

God set 30 years as the lifetime for man and animals. The ass, dog and monkey wanted this reduced to, respectively, 18, 12 and 10 years. Man asked for longer – so he was given 30 years as a Man; 18 as an ass, carrying burdens and feeding others; 12 as a dog, growling; and 10 as a monkey, without wits, making children laugh (adding up to 70).[2]

Nowadays, there is still ambivalence. “Old” can be a term of endearment – “good old so and so” we often say.  But “dirty old man” is not complimentary and “elderly” is demeaning, assuming frailty and inactivity.

Paul Spoonley, interviewed on RNZs “Nine to Noon” programme on 19th June agreed. He talked about much longer lives and the increasing prospect of living to 100 years and beyond. On this basis the sixties decade is “middle aged” – 75 is the new 65. Are we applying “elderly” to an age group spanning 35 years or more, and two generations?  The Kapiti Observer of June 14th, under the heading: “Should we ban the E word?” quotes Spoonley and gives examples of people in their sixties being described as “elderly”.

So “elderly” is roundly condemned– perhaps only to be used, if at all, for the very frail and dependent. So I was surprised to hear that a model law for ” The Protection Of The Elderly “ drafted by the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies International Human Rights Clinic, dated  2012, was up for discussion at an event is to be held in Wellington in August. This is called, “Positive Ageing Strategy and a Constitution for older New Zealanders; Informing the discussion,” clearly linked to the consultations, led by the Office for Seniors, to update the 2001 Positive Ageing Strategy.

I read this draft law and, while it can be applauded for its aim to promote respect and appreciation for the participation of older adults in the community; to protect their rights and interests and provide them with the support necessary to sustain the quality of life and dignity; older people are consistently referred to as “the elderly” and frequently their autonomy and ability to choose does not appear paramount. “The family” is given the main responsibility for care and support, with the state coming in only when this is not possible. Further examples –

18.3. The State shall have the duty to take measures to carry out cultural, sports and recreational activities of a public nature that are suited to the elderly in order to enrich their cultural life.  

Who decides what is “suited”? Where does it say that older people should make their own choices?

18.8.1. Implementing a policy to encourage employers and the public, in general, to understand the importance of employing the elderly, to stabilize employment, and to find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment.

Yes, but ideally on terms set by the older people themselves, giving them a strong say in working conditions. We shall see how this discussion progresses.

One of the first blogs I wrote for Age Concern asked –What’s special about human rights for older people? The United Nations has conventions protecting the rights of population groups – women, children, refugees, prisoners, people with disabilities. But nothing specifically covers the rights of older people. Does this matter? Doesn’t the Universal Declaration of Human Rights say that “all human being are born free and equal in dignity and rights”?

I believe that any document, UN-sponsored or otherwise, must be based on the preferences of older people in relation to their lifestyle, residence, assets and relationships. Not that they are treated as passive and incompetent and certainly not clumped together as “the elderly”. As I concluded before, respect for older people’s rights benefits everyone. Because, if violation of these rights leads to exclusion, poverty and discrimination, then society is robbing itself of the potential that older people represent and of their contributions based on their experience and wisdom.

 

 

 

 


[1] “As you like it”.

[2] All these examples refer to men or “man”. Sometimes virtuous women were also rewarded with long life.

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A new idea to fund your retirement

Dr Judith Davey

15/06/2018

Many of the (many) discussions about retirement income and about the financial aspects of retirement, talk about the “three pillars” model (originally put out by the World Bank in the 1990s), recognising that income in retirement could come from several sources. In the New Zealand context, the first pillar will be NZ Superannuation, which everyone receives at the same age, subject to residence requirement and with the same amount of money, depending on their living circumstances – living alone, living with others.

The second pillar is an occupation-based pension, based on contributions throughout working life. Workers’ contributions may be supplemented by employers’ contributions and the money invested. In NZ this is Kiwi Saver (KS), which is a relatively new scheme. It is not compulsory and it will take a while before people receive significant lump sums when they reach age 65 and their schemes mature.

The third pillar is either a private pension, arranged by individuals themselves, or income from savings – interest, dividends, possibly rents. The third pillar therefore depends on the ability of the individual to save and to invest.

As the proportion of the population over pension age (please do not say retirement age, as I will hit the roof. THERE IS NO RETIREMENT AGE IN NEW ZEALAND) increases, governments around the world are becoming more and more concerned about the cost of providing retirement incomes to older people. This has led to increases in the age of eligibility and other means of cutting back. It has also led to great “financialization” . What this means is that government policies are shifting more of the responsibility for retirement income planning to individuals. In this case, more and more, retirement income will be funded from financial market returns, subject to market fluctuations.

Our first pillar – NZS – does not fall into this category, although it may be subject to political fluctuations. Even here, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund (the so-called “Cullen fund”), which is intended to help pay for NZS as the demand grows, is invested in the international financial system and its returns cannot be guaranteed. Kiwi Saver – our second pillar- is certainly financialized. Contributions from regular wages or salaries go into investment funds run by private companies. The size of the lump sum delivered on maturity depends on the state of the financial markets over the period of investment and also on the skills of the fund managers to deliver good returns. Individual Kiwi Savers are subject to these uncertainties. They also have to be sure they have chosen the right KS scheme in the first place. Two people could have put the same amount into their KS pots but will get different pay-outs depending on the performance of their separate schemes.

To turn to the third pillar – self-funding. Could individuals do better by managing their own savings and investments to produce an adequate retirement income? Do people have adequate information and expertise to make appropriate and informed investment decisions. Not to mention enough self-discipline to save enough. This pillar does not get any subsidy from government, like KS. There is no tax relief on contributions to private schemes, which was the case in earlier times. Earnings from investments are subject to taxation. But, in this approach, people are freer to choose how they use their own resources to plan for an adequate retirement income.

There may be a fourth pillar to make our retirement income edifice more stable. I spoke about decumulation in my blogs last September. This means running down savings and investments to increase current income. Some people can trade-down to smaller/less expensive dwellings (perhaps moving into retirement villages), or take on commercial equity release schemes, mainly in the form of reverse mortgages.

Many people die with money in the bank, perhaps for a “rainy day” which never came; perhaps to provide inheritances; perhaps through inertia. But perhaps our savings could be used for a new form of retirement planning and a new source of income in later life to supplement the less reliable sources I discussed above.

In March this year I blogged about older people and entrepreneurship. Could this be a new source of retirement income? Could people develop businesses from their fifties onwards specifically to derive income from them when they retire from employment? There would be several advantages – it would allow more control over personal resources. It would provide stimulation and a way of applying accumulations of wisdom and know-how and a lifetime of building networks and contacts. It would avoid age discrimination by potential employers. The business could operate from home, allowing work to be more easily combined with caring responsibilities for relatives and grandchildren. Work at home would reduce costs. Modern technology can provide sophisticated communications and even production – 3D printers. It would be a new concept of home-work balance.

Risky, are you saying? But no more risky than seeking to create income through the volatile and uncertain financial markets, which have been called “the gaming tables of a global casino.”

What are the possibilities? Internet shopping, personal service delivery, writing and editing, small scale printing, catering, cakes for special events, bed and breakfast. The possibilities are endless. Older entrepreneurs rule!


[1] Thomas Wainwright and Ewald Kibler (2013) Beyond Financialization: older entrepreneurship and retirement planning. Journal of Economic Geography, vol.14 pp 849-864

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How business can respond to an ageing population (and perhaps save the world!)

Judith Davey
1/06/2018

bike

As I observe NZ society in its adaptation to population ageing, I take a special interest in business enterprises which have sprung up in response to this world-changing  trend. The private sector has done a lot better than many areas of government in recognising the implications.

  • Driving Miss Daisy started up in Havelock North in 2008, building on an idea from Canada. It now needs no introduction and has franchises operating in most main centres.
  • Since 2000 Elder Family Matters has provided a range of services for older people in their own homes, ranging from companionship to palliative care – “Our purpose is to enable healthy and happy elders and their families living as they wish to live.” They operate in the Greater Wellington region and Palmerston North.

These are two examples and I am sure that others are emerging. However, while trawling through the literature for my research on older entrepreneurs (see blog of March this year), I found a wonderful example from Indiana, USA , which combines entrepreneurship and product development to suit older people[1].

Pedego is a company, founded in 2008, which makes bicycles and is USA’s leading brand of electric bike. Most of its distribution is through independently owned branded stores usually launched by people in their 50s and older. They encountered the bikes as consumers and came to corporate Pedego’s rescue in the early days, when it was struggling for lack of distribution.

The 50-plus age group also makes up Pedego’s primary market, many returning to two wheels for the first time in decades. The entrepreneurs built their bikes to accommodate older bodies.  The spirit was willing, the flesh, perhaps, not so much. Electric bikes acted as “psychic training wheels”. “A lot of customers had bad hips, ankles, hearts, whatever,” says Pedego’s CFO. “If their hip starts to hurt, they can just use the throttle. So they are willing to venture out and do things because they know they have the ability to get home.”

They realised that the then-existing electric bikes didn’t cater to that audience. Most came in black and positioned riders to lean forward. Older customers wanted colours and to sit upright. They also wanted models they could mount easily. So they hired a computer-aided-design professional.

At first, bike stores shunned the product. “”They think electric bikes are cheating.” For a while, the founders sold bikes to their friends, who in turn sold them to their friends through parties—not the usual business model. But then a customer asked if he could open his own branded Pedego store and now they receive about 400 inquiries a year. The average customers are a 58-year-old man and 57-year-old woman; some customers are as old as 95. Often they were introduced to electric bikes while hiring them on holiday. One enterprising store owner, with previous marketing experience, rigged up a simulator to train people on the bikes and an indoor track for test rides in poor weather. Others organise regular group bike rides.

The secret appears to be that older customers trust someone who looks like them more than they’ll trust the Lycra-clad enthusiasts who haunt traditional bike shops. When they see the store owners still going strong – out there riding and enjoying life – they get “a sense of hope”. Says a 61-year-old owner, “I can say to a customer, ‘Look, I had my knee replaced.’ And the guy says, ‘Oh, I had my hip replaced. We talk about aches and pains, hills and headwinds.”

At a recent dealers meeting, two new products were introduced – an adult tricycle (I would certainly be in for one of those) and a vehicle for people with disabilities. So the innovation continues along with the health, social and environmental benefits, which I am sure my blog-readers will have noticed from this example.

 

[1] Leigh Buchanan, Editor-at-large, Inc. magazine – Boomers Are Ditching Retirement for Entrepreneurship: And They’re Killing It. March 9, 2017.

 

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More about the cause of “wrap rage” Why don’t manufacturers make more accessible packaging?

Judith Davey

18/05/2018

This is a good question. There are many reasons why making packaging usable by a wide range of people must be good for manufacturers. On her blog, Becky Taylor says – “Designing packaging that allows for universal usage therefore makes good sense from a strategic standpoint, but even without this economic incentive I believe that brands also have a responsibility to ensure that their products are accessible to all” .

Developing accessible packaging is an investment for manufacturers, as satisfied customers can result in increased profits and a well-respected brand identity. A product that is known for being easy to use and accessible for people with impairments is likely to be favoured by consumers who have difficulties with packaging. With an ageing population, this group is sure to increase . “It’s great for customer satisfaction and ultimately, improving sales. The market for easy-open products is huge”. So what is stopping them?

Are there any signs of a response?

Some commentators suggest that the packaging industry is very set in its ways and not ready for change. There is often an assumption that making packaging easier to open is going be very difficult or automatically very expensive. Manufacturers may be committed to a certain pack format which they believe is needed for consumer recognition. Another barrier may be regulatory requirements, for reasons of security (as with medication). Rules about labelling, or which compel suppliers to put a lot of information in a small space may make things difficult for people with less than perfect eyesight.

It seems that small to medium organisations may be better attuned to the need for more accessible packaging. They may have a greater scope to fundamentally redesign a product. With a multinational, the process of making a fundamental design change to a brand, especially one used nationally or globally, can be quite significant. But if you’re a small manufacturing company and somebody says, “here’s an opportunity, here’s how to redesign the product, you can just say ‘yeah’, let’s do it”. This can produce a competitive edge – “you can pick up contracts and replace existing suppliers in a market just by putting the consumer at the centre of the design process.”

Easy open packaging is a point of difference and gets away from price-only competition. Where a lot of companies are competing on more than price, winning contracts may be the rewarded for innovation.

An example I found on the internet is Ecobliss India. Its ‘easy opening’ blister packs have a special focus on “aged” customers . They aim to minimise the use of tough adhesives, use thin and easy-to-tear materials, simple instructions and opening features. They illustrate a new design for a toothbrush with an easy-to-open blister package. The design is simple; a blister presenting the product is encased in a printed cardboard card. After folding back the cardboard card, the customer can simply slide the product out of the blister. “Finally, no more cuts and puncture wounds due to jagged edges”.

“Imagine, the plight of an elderly person unable to access a special toothbrush from a blister pack and who may end up throwing away the product without using it”. Chakravarthi, managing director of Ecobliss .

Packaging Pic

What could help?

Getting feedback from consumers is crucial. Manufacturers could benefit greatly from the insights of older consumers, especially those with impairments.

Arthritis NZ’s initiative (the survey mentioned in my previous blog) is a good example of informing manufacturers. Arthritis NZ is now working with the Packaging Council and packaging companies to address accessibility for people with arthritis. Arthritis Australia has set up an Initial Scientific Review (IRS) which rates products according to their accessibility.

Perhaps what is also needed is some direct action by consumers. Boycotts of troublesome products could be considered. Not quite about accessibility, the example of older people who left all their packaging at the supermarket is worth a look.

1 http://www.mmr-research.com/blog

2 https://www.healthcarepackaging.com/article/applications/healthcare/accessibility-medical-packaging-learning-people-impairments

https://foodmag.com.au/packaging-accessibility-an-ageing-issue/

4 http://www.blisternews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/easy-open.jpg

 

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