Packaging for All
When considering the elderly, we can’t stop at drug development – packaging needs special consideration too.
Stephen Wilkins | | Longer Read
For the elderly, the gradual and persistent loss of dexterity, vision and hearing can contribute to the ability to read, handle and open pharmaceutical packaging, which in turn can affect medical adherence. For example, an elderly patient may fail to correctly prime an inhaler because of their poor grip strength or inability to read or understand instructions. They may be unable to muster the strength to open a blister pack. Moreover, fear or embarrassment of not being able to perform such tasks may prevent patients asking for help – even from those they are close to, further driving noncompliance.
But let’s forget age for a moment: counterintuitive design is a limiting factor for us all.
Designers and manufacturers may feel that they must make their packaging as unique as possible to set it apart from competitor products, but it is essential that it doesn’t create false affordances. Manufacturers should never assume that a patient will know how to use a particular piece of packaging. Elderly patients with dementia may even struggle with well-known packaging options. A friend of mine always used to say that if you design for the old you include the young, but if you design for the young, you exclude the old. I strongly believe that designers need to fully understand the challenges of sensory impairment and dexterity loss, which prevent older patients from being able to open packaging correctly. I have come across older patients who rely on tools to open packaging that is supposed to be opened by hand. Fingertip friction reduces significantly as we age. If you try dabbing your fingers in flour and trying to pick something up, the difficulty of that short-lived experience will inform you of an everyday reality faced by many older adult patients.
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