Stopwatch in hand, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is proposing to change the standards for child-resistant bottle caps to make them easier for older people to open.

Current rules for testing the caps say they will be approved if 85 percent of a group of 200 children, aged 3 1/2 to 4 years, cannot open it in five minutes and 80 percent cannot open it in another five minutes after being shown how.

Adults aged 18 through 45 are asked to open, then close the package within five minutes and 90 percent must meet the standard.

The commission proposes to reduce that time to one minute.

"Many elderly adults have difficulty manipulating the safety packaging," commission chairman Nancy Harvey Steorts said last week. "As a result, we suspect they are leaving the caps off or not properly resecuring them. If the cap is too difficult to open, older adults may not be taking their medication."

Commission statistics show the caps are saving lives. Commissioner Stuart Statler said accidental poisonings are down more than half--some 65,000 fewer children taking medicines not meant for them. Deaths from aspirin are down 72 percent and deaths from other products are down 50 percent, he said.