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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Bottles, doors can present a challenge for the aging

November 06. 2017 12:46AM

Last week I caught a terrible cold. On Monday morning when I woke up, my throat hurt and I knew immediately it was a nasty harbinger of things to come.

Every year I get a cold that lasts about two weeks. The first week is dread, and the next week I am frustrated that the cold hasn’t gone away yet.

When my four kids were growing up attending two different schools and my wife worked as a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, our house must have been a library equivalent of all the germs in New England.

The strange thing is that kids seemingly recover from colds within a few days. But when adults get the same bug, usually from their kids, the bugs choose to stay much longer.

I took a trip with my aching throat to the pharmacy to prepare for the two-week battle against my cold. I usually buy a box of DayQuil and a box of NyQuil as my standard action every year.

Item No. 1: On my way home I dropped in to the supermarket to get orange juice and vegetables. First, I visited their washroom. One door opens to a vestibule, and two doors, one for men and other for women. These doors are very heavily checkered, and require quite a push to open. Just as I was about to enter the men’s room, the door to the women’s room opened and a slightly built woman emerged. Just as she was exiting, her hand slipped and the door pinned her between it and the door frame. It must have been painful. I pushed the door back and she exited safely. My question is: Why is the door pressure set so heavily?

Item No. 2: I am taking various prescriptions. They are filled by the pharmacy and often handed to me in an orange-colored plastic container. My question is: Why is it so hard to open these pill containers? Or better yet, why does every pill container take different force to open? The way one opens the container is to push down the white cap slightly and turn it counter-clockwise. However, if these containers are made by plastic injection, the dimension can be precisely held, and one unit is the same as any other unit. Thus, ease of opening the cap must be always the same. Well, they are not. Some containers are very hard to open, and some are not.

Item No. 3: I went home and opened the DayQuil box. Two large orange pills are sandwiched on a plastic pill-shaped top and aluminum/paper base. The pair must be cut from the main board by folding along the dotted line many times to separate it. I became a bit angry. Why is this such a convoluted process?

These are three items of inconvenience that we aging people face every day, and they are likely all designed by the younger generation — a contractor for item No. 1, a plastic injection molding engineer for item No. 2, and medical drug packaging designer for item No. 3.

But the younger generation does not have intimate knowledge of what it is like to be aging. Aging is a complex process, through which many faculties of the human body decline.

In case of Item No. 1 — the pill containers — why don’t millions of people complain? In the case of the heavy doors, someone should tell supermarket managers that the doors are too heavy, and someone could fall on the hard floor. In case of Item No. 3, why don’t we let the drug maker know how difficult it is to take their pills?

I sincerely believe that “golden lives matter.” But for that concept to gain traction, we must speak up repeatedly so the younger generation understands finally what we need.

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle was named by MIT as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century. Write to him at

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