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6 Dementia Patient Deaths Linked to Common Household Product

Laundry detergent pods

Liquid detergent pods hit the market in 2012, taking it by storm as a convenient alternative to regular laundry detergent. Unfortunately, consumers are now discovering that these seemingly innocuous products that many of us have in our homes are actually extremely dangerous.

Consumer Reports reported that liquid laundry detergent “pods” pose a lethal risk for adults with dementia who confuse the packets for food.

The nonprofit group filed a Freedom of Information Act to obtain statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, revealing that there were eight deaths in the U.S. related to the ingestion of liquid laundry detergent packets between 2012 and early 2012. A surprising six of those deaths were adults with dementia and two were young children.

But why are these laundry detergent pods so deadly? In recognition of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, we look into what makes laundry detergent pods so dangerous for adults with dementia, and how families can protect their elder loved ones.

The Danger Posed by Laundry Detergent Pods

Laundry pods are small, single-load packets of highly concentrated liquid detergent that are designed to dissolve in the wash. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the concentrated formula in pods poses a greater risk than conventional detergent.

The press secretary for the CPSC, Patty Davis, told Consumer Reports that since the pods are water soluble, even saliva can dissolve the packets and release the highly concentrated detergent. She stated, “[c]aregivers and children of seniors should be aware that ingestion of the contents of certain liquid laundry packets has led to serious and even tragic incidents.”

The danger for children has already been documented. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report calling the detergent in pods “an emerging public health hazard” for children under six.

Gary A. Smith, M.D., Dr.P.H., and president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance, conducted an analysis of calls made to poison-control centers in 2013 and 2014, published in the journal Pediatrics.

Children exposed to detergent pods were significantly more likely to be admitted to a healthcare facility than those exposed to other types of detergent, and were more likely to have other serious clinical effects such as a coma, pulmonary edemas, respiratory arrest, and death.

Compared to liquid detergents, more people required medical treatment in calls related to pods. Out of all laundry detergent-related calls that resulted in medical treatment, an overwhelming 74 percent were related to pods.

How to Protect Elder Loved Ones

All six of the adults killed by ingesting laundry detergent pods had dementia. Although parents of young children are often taught to keep unsafe products out of their kids’ reach or out of their homes entirely, caregivers for elders are not often educated to the risk that household items can pose to their loved ones.

Pod companies such as Procter & Gamble are taking steps to make pods safer, such as changing the packets to make them opaque in an effort to lessen their resemblance to candy.

The American Cleaning Institute, which represents the $30 billion cleaning product industry in the U.S. told ABC News they have issued safety tips for caregivers and have worked to develop a voluntary safety standard for liquid laundry packets, which includes making the soluble film on the pods taste bitter.

Although these steps are important in making detergent pods less dangerous, there are steps that you can take to protect your elder loved ones. Consumer Reports compiled a list of recommendations from medical experts for any household in which adults with dementia live:

  • Remove from your home any cleaning product that could resemble food
  • Keep cleaning products in their original containers and opt for child-proof containers when possible
  • Store cleaning products in a locked cabinet, completely separate from any food. Some liquid cleaners are bright colors or smell sweet, which could cause an adult with dementia to mistake them for juice
  • Limit the use of toxic home-cleaning products
  • Always keep a close eye on a person with dementia. Dementia can cause a person to want to place objects in his or her mouth. If you notice this happening, remove choking hazards and any items that are fatal if ingested such as cleaners, medications, batteries and some types of plants

Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

Dementia is a term used to describe the deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and a person’s ability to execute everyday activities that is not a part of normal aging. The World Health Organization estimates 47 million people around the world have dementia, and that there are 9.9 million new cases every year.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It affects 5.5 million adults - one in ten people age 65 and older - in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Confusion is a common characteristic of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, and unfortunately that can lead to adults with dementia mistaking colorful items such as liquid detergent pods for food. Dementia has also been associated with an increased desire in people to place objects in their mouths.

According to a neurologist who specializes in dementia diagnosis and management at Washington University School of Medicine, this behavior is likely caused by a loss of function in the brain areas that regulate and restrict child or baby-like behavior.

The tragic loss of life due to laundry detergent pods is preventable. On this Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, take the time to learn about this fatal disease, and take steps to protect your elder loved ones.

Learn about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, donate for cure research, or wear purple in solidarity of the cause. If you have a family member or loved one in a nursing home, be extra vigilant for signs of dementia, as those with dementia are at even greater risk of abuse.

If you are concerned about the safety of an elder loved one who receives care from a nursing home or home aide, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.