Breland: It’s hard to open things with old hands

Published 2:35 pm Friday, August 27, 2021

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It was time for medicine. No matter there was company at my house. When it is that time, it had to be done. I grabbed a bottle of medicine and started to open. I apparently put the lid back on the hard way — sometimes called “child-proof.” No matter how hard I pushed and twisted, the lid would not move.

I handed the closed bottle to one of my visitors, asked their assistance and easy as pie — it was instantly opened.

I was painting a picture and needed a fairly large container opened. It had a screw lid and one of those “push down and turn” openers that I cannot do both at the same time. For my small paint tubes, I can use a pair of pliers to open the lids, but not so on bigger items.

I got in my golf cart and took it to my granddaughter, whose younger hands had no problem pushing and turning. I went home and back to painting.

Younger people can simply open containers and move on with their day, but an older person — particularly women — can turn a five-second movement into a painful chore, especially if they have arthritis.

I was making a potato salad and all it lacked was a spoonful or two of sweet pickle relish. I had a new jar and nobody was there to step in and take control. Along with the screw part on the lid, it was sealed under pressure.

When I saw I couldn’t open it, I held the lid under running warm water. That will usually help break the pressure. Then I held it on the counter with a dishcloth and tried with all my strength to get it open. I held it against me and tried it another way. It was a good thing I wasn’t taking it for a meal somewhere else or I would have to take the jar along and get somebody to open it to finish the salad.

I pounded lightly around the top ridge of the lid with the handle of a butter knife and was about to give up hope when it finally turned loose and opened. I was both relieved and completely worn out.

I hate to admit it, but getting things open can really be a chore, and seems to be getting worse. It is the loss of hand grip that gets to me. I have to be careful holding something as it can easily slip from my hand.

There are a lot of bone joints involved in opening a jar — it takes your hands, fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders to open a jar or bottle. Pain or stiffness in any of them can make it feel impossible to do.

We use our hands to do so many things: tie shoes, open jars, drive, and use the phone, to name a few. As we get older, they can get weaker and less flexible. Some hand problems can be signs of certain health conditions.

With aging, the hand bones and joints are accompanied by changes common to the skeletal tissues. Hands and fingers are especially prone to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

I was opening a new plastic container of catsup with a thin plastic sealer under the top lid. There were tiny tabs put there for pulling off that little sealer. I turned them up, but no amount of pulling opened it. I finally poked my little paring knife into the center and gave it a plop to get it out.

So far I have found little that works other than using hot water, my paring knife, a pair of kitchen scissors … or calling for help.

On a recent visit with an older friend, she told me she had a new container of milk in the refrigerator, but she could not open it. I doubted by ability to do so either, but I would try. It was a half-gallon carton of milk with a screw lid. With a dishcloth I gave it a turn and it gave way. There was a sealer on the inside with a loop pull. Pulling and tugging, it would not budge.

I reached in a drawer, found a paring knife, stuck it in, gave that booger a pop, and then pulled it out. Sometimes we try many things to use whatever works!

Seniors, remember an old saying: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat!”

Bob Ann Breland can be reached by email at