Senior-Friendly Packaging to Support Patient Adherence
Sean Riley shares how push packs, clean cartons and other innovations aim to meet the needs of an aging population
Sean Riley, senior director of media and industry communications at the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute offers insight on how we can make packaging more suitable for the senior market.
With more than 46 million people aged 65 and older in the United States alone, seniors account for almost 15 percent of the U.S. population. By 2060, this group is projected to nearly double to 98 million, rising to nearly 24 percent the population. Consequently, pharmaceutical companies are taking notice as the needs of an aging population are likely to transform the way they package medications.
People inevitably face new challenges as they enter their winter years. Loss of hand coordination and reduced dexterity can hinder simple activities such as opening boxes, bottles and other packaging. For many people, it’s an unavoidable reality of aging, even as they look to treat those conditions. At the same time, some pharmaceutical packaging—especially those formats designed to be child-safe or child-resistant—can make access to vital medications difficult. Moreover, worsening eyesight makes it difficult for seniors to read labels while comprehension and memory challenges can inhibit their understanding of critical dosing instructions and other information. All of these challenges can reduce patient adherence, potentially leading to misuse and subsequent health repercussions for patients as well as liabilities for companies.
So how do pharmaceutical manufacturers design packaging to accommodate the special needs of an aging population and improve patient adherence within this demographic? The answer lies in formats that are easy-to-handle and easy-to-read—all while balancing the need for these convenience-enhancing features with measures to minimize the impact of extra material usage on the environment. As the suppliers of packaging materials, containers and equipment increasingly cater to the needs of senior patients, pharmaceutical packaging professionals can expect to see a wide range of solutions at Healthcare Packaging EXPO (September 23-25; Las Vegas Convention Center). The show is co-located with PACK EXPO Las Vegas and produced by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. Until then, industry players weigh in on the considerations necessary to achieve senior-compliant packaging.
Marrying Easy Access with Child Resistance
Many good things come with age, but unfortunately so do some challenges that can impact senior consumers’ interactions with packaging.
“The aging, elderly and/or geriatric population can have impaired eyesight, and trouble with memory along with reduced manual dexterity, finger friction and cognitive ability,” said Jerry Martin, pharmaceutical and life sciences consultant to PMMI. “As a result, pharmaceutical companies must design packaging to accommodate the hurdles that these conditions present.”
For decades, pharmaceutical manufacturers prioritized packaging features designed to keep children from accessing the contents. These include hard-to-twist caps and other closures with nuanced fasteners. While these child-resistant features prevent the potentially dangerous—or even tragic—consumption of adult medications by young family members, they can also present unintended consequences.
“A crucial component to successful packaging is ensuring that it can meet adherence and compliance for all audiences including seniors,” said Lon Johnson, vice president of national sales, Colbert Packaging Corporation (Booth #N-137). “Packaging that is uncomfortable to touch or hard to grip, such as bottles that are too slick, can deter consumers from accessing their medication.”
Colbert is working on uncomplicated, child-resistant yet senior friendly packaging that will be featured at Healthcare Packaging EXPO. “We are developing a simple yet secure paperboard package,” said Johnson. “Paperboard is easier to open compared to the alternative plastic clamshell but, with practical testing, our structural designers are working toward a package that can withstand tampering from children.”
As the call for greater flexibility with pharmaceutical packaging arises, blister packs, or pre-formed plastic packaging used for small pharmaceuticals, have begun to emerge. However, blister packs with the child-resistant feature are being addressed as difficult to open for seniors. In response, suppliers are creating new formats that combine the barrier properties of a strip-style package with dosing format of a blister pack—but with easier openability. Designed to be both senior-friendly and child-resistant, Push Packs from Romaco (Booth #N-214) are made with materials that do not tear but allow for tablets to be easily pressed out with a patient’s thumb.
“Seniors prefer the Push Pack as it is easier to open without compromising the child-resistant feature,” said Sabri Demirel, managing director of North America, Romaco. “The biggest benefit to the Push Pack lies in the fact that the product is in a single dose and can be handled by the seniors much easier than a blister pack, while protecting the product.”
Available in single- or multi-dose child-resistant formats, the packaging features air-, light- and moisture-tight units to extend shelf life. The Push Packs also enable pharmaceutical manufacturers to select aluminum foil thicknesses between 9 µm to 25 µm and combine the push-through foil with a multilayer laminated or transparent barrier foil for even greater protection.
For the most part, vision impairment can be an inescapable symptom of aging. Combined with the increasing amount of important information that must accompany medications, the resulting tiny print can create the perfect storm for jeopardizing adherence. However, more packaging options aimed at maximizing readability are reaching the market. For example, Colbert offers paperboard packaging that can include cold foil technology to enhance packaging with graphics and text that are more eye-catching, visually appealing, and in some cases, easier to see and read.
Colbert also uses cold foil and holographic printing techniques that can aid anti-counterfeiting efforts. For the vision-impaired, Braille printing technology provides a safe and secure packaging solution for a growing packaging requirement. The company also employs 100% vision inspection systems across all of its facilities to ensure accuracy and clean readability.
Additionally, to accommodate growing demand for more information without overwhelming product labels, companies have begun pre-loading paper leaflets to be included inside the carton. A “combination packaging” solution from Colbert prints inserts with large, readable text that can be micro-folded and inserted into the carton with easy-open access for seniors.
The use of paperboard packaging for food and pharmaceutical products does prompt new challenges, as companies express concerns over the sterility of medications and the possibility of chemicals or odors migrating from secondary packaging into the product itself. Colbert aims to address these areas with its Clean CartonTM, a completely water-based packaging solution.
“Our Clean Carton, which is laboratory-tested on a routine basis, incorporates a special formula containing no heavy metals, VOCs, or other harmful materials that can leach into the primary container and interact with its contents,” said Johnson.
Taking a Sustainable Approach to Adherence
As more patients call for packaging innovation that promotes adherence through convenience measures—like customized day-to-day blister packs—concerns about sustainability echo throughout the pharmaceutical sector. “Four out of five seniors are on some prescription medication and a third are on multiple medications,” said Martin.
While these personalized formats undoubtedly help senior consumers keep track of multiple medications without carrying around multiple bottles, the additional materials can often end up in landfills. Thus, pharmaceutical manufacturers are proactively seeking more eco-friendly alternatives that can meet demands for convenience, support adherence and reduce environmental impact.
“Another trend that has emerged as a result of sustainability concerns is the use of individual packages that use a special Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material,” said Demirel. “Consumers prefer flexibility without harming the environment.”
Just like any consumer, seniors must be able to access medications to address health concerns. As this population continues to expand, pharmaceutical companies must be well versed in producing senior-friendly packaging that can meet various needs.