Technology can be a wonderful thing, and innovations that make everyday tasks easier can be profitable for companies selling them. But sometimes, new products can introduce new risks. Recent research has highlighted the dangers to adults with dementia about detergent “pods,” which package detergent so it’s easier to use.
But first, a little history: A few years ago, consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble introduced the Tide Pod, a concentrated little shrink-wrapped packet of laundry detergent that removes the need to deal with messy powders and liquid detergents. Users simply had to throw the little pod in with their clothes. The plastic wrap dissolved slowly in the water, releasing the detergent at just the right rate. The technology was soon also being used in dishwashing detergent, and promised a host of other uses. Soon, pods were sold with liquid detergents, as well as powders.
But it didn’t take long for a problem to become apparent. Since the pods were brightly colored and just the right size for toddlers to mistake for a tasty treat and pop into their mouths, calls to poison-control centers began to skyrocket. In addition, since the chemicals they contained were concentrated, they were more likely to cause poisonings than other types of detergents. The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that more than 500 kids that year had to visit emergency rooms after consuming or chewing on the pods. In some cases, kids were playing with them, causing the packaging to rupture and squirt detergent into their eyes. In others, ruptured packages led to kids accidentally inhaling the contents.
In response to the crisis, the industry began changing the products to make them less colorful and putting them in opaque containers. But that didn’t stop the problem from mushrooming in the next couple of years. By 2014, the CPSC estimated, at least 17,000 kids had been hurt. The Journal of Pediatrics studied the problem, and in 2014 issued its own warning, calling the pods a “serious poisoning risk to young children.”
In the years since, the number of products using “pod” technology has increased, with pods accounting for about 17 percent of the market. At the same time, pods accounted for nearly three-quarters of all calls to poison control centers from 2013 to 2015, according to Consumer Reports.
But now, a new danger has become apparent from the pods. Consumer Reports issued a report last week showing that, of the eight deaths directly related to laundry pods since 2012, two were children. The remaining six were senior citizens with dementia.
The report notes that people with dementia may often make the same assumption as a child when seeing the detergent pod: that it’s something to eat. Consumer Reports quoted an Alzheimer’s expert about how this process might work. “A hungry person with dementia foraging in a kitchen may misidentify a box of powdered detergent as cereal and still know to pour it in a bowl and mix it with milk from the refrigerator.”
The advice from the experts is simple: if you have an adult with dementia in the house, avoid having pods where they can reach them, and if possible avoid them altogether. “As a result of this new data from the CPSC highlighting the potential risks of laundry detergent pods to adults with dementia, we are amending our advice and recommending that family members caring for anyone who is cognitively impaired not keep pods in the home,” says Consumer Reports’ chief scientific officer, James Dickerson. “We also continue to believe that manufacturers should modify the appearance of laundry packets, so they do not look like candy.”
For more information about the risk detergent pods pose to seniors with dementia, and what you can do about it, you can read the full report at Consumer Reports.