Laundry pod deaths more common in elderly dementia patients than children

Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 5:50 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -Warnings have been issued for years about the potential dangers of laundry pods. Given their bright colors and shape, children can mistake them for candy and ingest them.

But seventy-five percent of deaths from ingesting laundry pods are elderly dementia patients.

That tally of deaths among dementia patients has led the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create a task group on the topic.

Dennis Powers, a 67-year-old Ohio man, is among the dementia patients who died because of this.

He came across a Ziplock-style pouch of laundry pods in his Springfield home. He chewed on five of them and died that very day.

“We think of dementia as a memory disorder, but that’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Charles Duffy, a neurologist with University Hospitals, and a brain health specialist.

He says his Alzheimer’s patients often lose their memory, and their sense of smell.

“It’s considered a common problem. In some circles it’s considered diagnostic, what we call anosmia. It’s a loss of the sense of smell but also the ability to identify the smell as something familiar, something savory perhaps versus something that is not,” said Dr. Duffy.

According to Dr. Duffy, dementia patients can also develop ageusia, and lose their sense of taste.

“So even if they’ve eaten one, they may not register it as...’Well that didn’t taste good.’ They may try another, and you’re getting to a potentially fatal situation,” he said.

Toxicologist, Dr. Ryan Marino says initial concerns when someone ingests one or more of these laundry pods is direct irritation to the mouth, and esophagus, and potentially the airways.

“But the bigger concern is once it gets absorbed into the body some of these metabolites and proprietary chemicals in these pods can be made into acids in the body. It can affect low blood pressure, seizures and other more concerning things,” he said.

Marino says the effects on the central nervous system usually last hours, or no more than a day. But if the contents of the pod get into someone’s lungs it can be longer.

Usually permanent damage isn’t done, if medical attention is given. However, the very young and the very old are more vulnerable, with more pronounced effects if they’ve ingested multiple laundry pods.

“The first effect is going to be depressed mental effects, sleepy, maybe intoxicated acting, altered, but that’s secondary to reductions in their blood pressure, formations of acids in their blood and more concerning things that do need medical treatment,” Dr. Marino said.

He said it’s hard to say at what point it becomes lethal. But any amount is unsafe.

“The biggest issue is that a lot of these products are proprietary, so you don’t know what these ingredients are. So, in terms of treating someone, it’s a lot easier to treat, knowing what’s going to happen to them, knowing what to expect, if you know what they’re ingesting. But if it is a trade secret it makes it little harder for me,” he said.

While this is not something that is common, Dr. Duffy said it’s important nonetheless because it’s a symptom of an impending crisis in available caregivers.

Best practice is to keep these items out of site and out of reach, or out of the home altogether in homes with those cognitively impaired.