Lift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: the challenges of hospital food and beverage packaging for the older user.
Ergonomic researchers from the University of Wollongong provide an overview of a presentation about packaged food, particularly in hospitals. Their study revealed some obvious results that packaging design has no regard for dexterity and strength.
Packaged food and beverages are ubiquitous in food and drink provision in all aspects of life, including hospitals. Many people are frustrated by packaging and have issues opening it. 48% of inpatients in NSW were over the age of 65 years, while for the same time, they represented 14% of the total population.
This paper outlines a series of 3 studies undertaken with well people aged 65 years and over in NSW examining their interaction with routine hospital food and beverage items. Both quantitative (strength, dexterity, time and number of attempts to open the pack; nutritional status and intake) and qualitative (ratings of ‘openability’) data were collected. The most ‘problematic’ items were – tetra packs, cheese portions, boxed cereals, fruit cups and water bottles. Most packs required greater dexterity than strength and some packs could not be opened at all (for example, 39% of subjects could not open the cheese portion in study 1).
The overarching message from this series of 3 studies is the need for manufacturers to design products incorporating the principles of both universal (Follette et al, 1998; Farage et al, 2012) and transgenerational (Pirkl, 1991) design in order to cater for the global rapidly ageing population and improve pack ‘openability’. Packaging has an important role to play in food provision and if well designed, assist older people remain independent and well nourished.
Alison Bell has published more on this topic, including a PhD thesis.