Packaging for all: does it help or hinder the elderly user?

Demographics are such that the number of people over 65 will increase by 11% by the year 2011. The needs of this section of the United Kingdom population are not currently catered for in the design of food packaging. This paper discusses a project which aims to highlight the needs and aspirations of a sample of the UK population when opening food packaging. In an initial focus group, six people discussed the issues that they perceived as being important when purchasing packaged food. Their physical ability was profiled before opening five types of foodstuff packaging, and their performance was recorded via video and through focus groups. The physical properties of the packaging were also defined. The perceived ability or inability of the participants to open packaging, and their subsequent success in this task performance, is discussed in relation to a model of hand object interaction and packaging semantics. It was found that the participants could not open all of the packaging tested. The forces required to open the packaging did not appear to be too high in relation to the participants’ abilities, demonstrated through grip and pinch strengths. The problems users experienced were with their ability to apply the forces to the packaging and their pre-conceptions of the packaging. The participants choice of food was influenced by their confidence in being able to prepare it, which included opening the packaging or who was available to help them. Easy to open food packaging enables elderly people to be more confident in leading independent lives for longer and provides improved convenience for all.