The food packaging community has always been aware of the power of the physical entity referred to as the package. Color, shape, dress, graphic elements, and adjuncts define the product for the consumer on the retail shelf, in the pantry, and even on the table. Think for a moment of the delights conjured up by viewing an image of the M&M’s™ Peanut Chocolate Candies pouch: a bold yellow background evoking peanuts and rich brown lettering suggesting chocolate—together a mouthful of psychic and physical pleasure. The product’s benefits have been translated into an instantaneous picture to trigger responses that lead to purchase and use. The notion that packaging is a form of marketing has driven the design of food packages since the 19th century.
Even though a food package is primarily a protective mechanism for food products, the role of packaging in distribution, delivery, and communication at many points in channels and use is evident. It may even be regarded as a psychological tool linking the visual to the mind and sparking the decision to eat. But now folks in the United Kingdom have moved the food package into the realm of the alleviation of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Ancient and long-forgotten candy packages are being presented to patients to remind them of the good old days—the joy and flavor of Aero, Smarties®, Rowntree’s® Fruit Gums, and others in a reminiscence pack. The sweets’ packages reportedly resurrect vivid memories of earlier and happier times in the minds of cognitively impaired individuals. Nestlé UK and Ireland have developed this system in conjunction with the UK Alzheimer’s Society to apply objects familiar from past decades to help ease symptoms of dementia.
Afflicting some 800,000 persons in the United Kingdom and 35 million worldwide, dementia is incurable. Dementia is not a single disease but a non-specific syndrome affecting cognitive functions such as memory, attention, language, and problem-solving. In later stages, subjects may be disoriented in time (what year is it?), in space (where am I?), and in person (who am I?). One of the most common forms of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Although there is no treatment to eliminate all of the symptoms, mental stimulation has been found to be one mechanism to help patients. Memories of encounters with pleasure—i.e., candy packaging—can apparently jog the brain.
The phrase “use it or lose it” might be applied to the brain relative to dementia. Intellectual activities help keep the mind alert as a person ages. Activities such as reading or playing a musical instrument can postpone the onset and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Psychosocial interventions can be classified within behavior-, emotion-, cognition-, or stimulation-oriented approaches.
Emotion-oriented interventions include reminiscence therapy, supportive psychotherapy, sensory integration, and simulated presence therapy. Reminiscence therapy involves bringing up past experiences with the aid of photographs, household items, music and sound recordings, or other familiar items from the past, such as the packaging of favorite confectioneries. Although there are only a few quality studies on the effectiveness of reminiscence therapy, it appears to be beneficial for cognition and mood. The aim of cognition-oriented treatments, which include reality orientation and cognitive retraining, is the reduction of cognitive deficits.
Nestlé’s Reminiscence Pack
The attempt in the United Kingdom to assist patients and their caregivers to slow the onset of dementia and extend the useful lives of victims is an incremental push to ally food and its packaging to human health. Historically, confections have suffered from providing great pleasure and calories to being responsible for almost all ills of humankind: diabetes, obesity, acne, cavities, etc.
The symbolism of candy—the brightly colored and sparkling crinkle of packaging—was and possibly still is a stimulus for the real happiness derived from the eating experience. Nestlé dove into its archives to identify current and former products that may enable patients to tap into long-term memories. Nostalgic versions of famous UK brands such as Rowntree’s® Dairy Box have been revived as well as many that no longer exist on the British market. According to Nestlé, the images were taken from company archives kept in a special purpose climate controlled facility in their York factory, where items such as works of art, films, products, and packaging are preserved. Preliminary results have been positive. The results are so intriguing that other health support groups have inquired about resurrecting the past to enhance the future.