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Manufacture Packaging

Sense and Sensibility

For the elderly, sensory impairment (visual, auditory or both) and loss of cognitive function affect medicine adherence and increase the risk of morbidity and mortality. Coupled with their increased likelihood of polypharmacy and increased risk of harmful drug events (when compared with younger patients), it is beyond question that the needs of this vulnerable patient group need to be considered. 

Sensory impairment is a common long-term condition of the elderly, but the rapid surge in prevalence of visual and auditory impairment we’ve seen in recent times has been driven by our ageing populations. Globally, it is estimated that 285 million people have impaired vision and 82 percent of people who are blind are aged 50 or over. Pharmaceutical packaging is often inaccessible to people in this demographic; they have difficulty in reading the labelling provided thus preventing them from identifying medications, accessing relevant instructions and  reading expiry dates. 

The provision of Braille instructions does little for the majority of older adult patients with visual impairment as very few of these individuals are Braille-proficient. For the small percentage of Braille-readers who interact with this type of  pharmaceutical packaging, labelling is often placed over Braille information, preventing access to information essential for the appropriate storage and administration of their medicines and preventing patients from attaining comparable levels of knowledge and understanding as their sighted counterparts.

As a knock-on effect of poor interactions with healthcare providers, elderly patients often administer their medications incorrectly (missing doses or administering the wrong dose of medicine entirely), leading to suboptimal therapeutic responses, uncontrolled disease states and patient harm. To help alleviate the growing economic burden on healthcare services, comprehensive training about the issues faced by older adult patients makes sense. Now, more than  ever before, patients have access to non-medical prescribers who should be encouraged to raise their awareness of this patient population’s needs and consider them when prescribing and undertaking medical review.

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  1. Alhusein N, Killick K, Macaden L, Smith A, Stoddart K, Kroll T, Watson MC). “We’re really not ready for this.'' Community pharmacy personnel perspective on the needs of older people with sensory impairment: qualitative study. Disability and Health Journal
  2. Alhusein N, Macaden L, Smith A, Stoddart K, Taylor A, Killick K, Kroll T, Watson MC. “Have they seen me” a multiple methods study of the pharmaceutical care needs of older people with sensory impairment in Scotland BMJ Open bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/8/e023198.full
  3. Killick K, Macaden L, Smith A, Kroll T, Stoddart K, Watson MC. A scoping review of the pharmaceutical care needs of people with sensory impairment. Int J Pharm Pract.

About the Author

Margaret Watson

Independent Consultant, Watson Research & Training Limited

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