Older people with hand disabilities struggle to open blister packs

This is a plea for the designers of blister pill packs to consider the increasing numbers of older people (and others) who have serious problems removing pills from the blister packs in which they are supplied.

Before their advent, you would go to the pharmacy with your prescription and the pharmacist would have a large stock bottle or box of whatever pill was needed. The different methods used to dispense were all subject to error, so along came the blister pack.

I have looked closely at the packs that I have and they can be divided roughly into two categories: ‘easy to open’ and ‘difficult to open’. The foil backing can be thick and stiff, thin and flexible, large or small (relating to the size of the contents).

There are those that contain very small pills, which are covered with a segment of foil of a similarly small diameter that just exceeds the size of the tablet. The foil is thick and, because of the close relationship between the pill and its cover, it is, of necessity, tight. These would come under the category of difficult.

There are also those that contain a pill, of whatever size or shape, covered by a segment of foil larger than the pill. This foil may be thin and flexible. These are easy to open.

Somewhere in-between are those that are a mixture of the features described above.

It would be interesting to know if pharmaceutical companies undergo any testing in the design of their blister packs, using the experience of real patients with arthritic disabilities in their fingers.

There is an argument to be made for comprehensive standardisation across all the pharmaceutical companies for the type of foil to be used. Its thickness and segment dimension in relation to the size of the pill should be the same for all drug types from whatever source or manufacturer. It is surprising that this has not been done and that regulations have not been made by the government (or the EU).

This issue should have more attention paid to it; partially or completely unused blister packs are being discarded owing to the disability of those who cannot cope with them.

Research must be done to determine the impact of people’s failure to use the packs fully on their health.


Michael Rich, retired dentist, East Sussex

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, January 2019, Vol 302, No 7921;302(7921):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205676

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