Caring for someone suffering from dementia means navigating a world full of potential pitfalls—pitfalls that many people would not consider to be a danger. For example, moderate-to-severe dementia has the ability to turn common household items into very serious health risks. For sufferers of dementia who continue to live at home, a very dedicated caregiver, or the help of professional in-home care, is often needed to help navigate these waters. Laundry detergent pods have recently been added to the list of potential hazards. These detergent pods are commonly found around the home and may pose serious unexpected risks to dementia patients.
Liquid Laundry Pods and Dementia
One case that has gathered national attention recently involved an 87-year-old woman from Texas. Tragically, she was found dead in her home, after having ingested two of the liquid laundry pods. Her death was only one of eight that have occurred over the last five years linked directly to these products.
Many poisoning cases involve children. While this is also the the case with the increasing number of pod detergent related-deaths, only two of these eight reported laundry pod-related deaths involved children. The other six cases all involved dementia. The theory behind these dementia-related accidents is that elderly dementia sufferers mistook the pods for a candy or some other type of edible snack.
One of the pressures laundry pod manufacturers are facing from the public is the demand to change the appearance of the pods so they look less like candy. It is thought that both the death of the children, and the adults suffering from dementia were likely caused because the victim thought the laundry pod was something attractive to eat. James Dickerson, Ph.D., of Consumer Reports, has gone on record stating that he believes manufacturers need to actively change how these pods look so they are no longer mistaken for edible products.
Other Edible Hazards
Laundry pods are far from the only substance found around the home that could be fatally mistaken for food by someone suffering from dementia. Dementia impairs anyone’s ability to judge what is and what is not okay to eat in the home. A person suffering from extreme dementia may mistake many inedible products, such as soaps, cleaners, sponges, or detergents, for food. Dementia varies significantly between patients, and sometimes even in its day to day presentation within a single patient. This makes it difficult to predict how, when or what a dementia patient may try to eat if they’re hungry enough.
The hazards associated with dementia demonstrate a clear need for smart precautions to be taken by anyone with a loved one suffering from dementia. Here are some good general guidelines to follow:
- Remove all non-edible products from kitchen cabinets to avoid mistaking them based on their location
- Lock high-toxicity products in a cupboard away from food
- Provide accessible, healthy and safe food to prevent potentially dangerous food-seeking by the patient
Other Categories of Hazards for Dementia Patients
There are many other potential hazards within the home that may pose a health risk to dementia patients.
Appliances: Stoves should have special shut off valves or breakers to turn them off so they cannot be accidentally turned on. In the event that this is not possible, look for a stove that will automatically turn off after a set amount of time.
Tools: Many homes contain a variety of tools for home repair or yard maintenance that may be dangerous if used improperly. A person with dementia may be tempted to do some unsafe home improvement work if these tools are left lying around.
Paints/Cleaners/etc.: Much like the problem with the laundry pods, substances like paint, cleaning liquids, automotive fluids and other toxic elements could all potentially be drank or spilled by someone suffering from dementia.
Hot Liquids: Hot liquids, ranging from a boiling cup of water to an overly hot shower, pose a risk of injury for dementia patients. Without monitoring or assistance, someone suffering from advanced dementia can face significant risk of burns or injury from open exposure to hot liquids.
Managing Risk with In-Home Care
When you have a loved one suffering from dementia, constant vigilance while monitoring their home and well being is crucial. Unfortunately, this vigilance and care takes time and attention. For a variety of reasons, many people may be wary of removing their loved ones from their home regardless of how much their dementia worsens. In fact, there is evidence to support that the familiar and comfortable environment of home can be beneficial for dementia patients, as long as their health is maintained and these other risks can be mitigated.
These factors are the reason that many families end up considering in-home care for any loved one suffering from dementia. Caregivers who work with in-home care services are trained to understand the unique health challenges of caring for patients in their homes, avoiding the need for moving them into assisted living facilities. Our caregivers are also given specialized training for working with and caring for dementia patients.
Living in the Real World
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a home without laundry detergent, soap or tools. Despite this reality, there are ways to keep these essential items in the home while also keeping the environment safe for someone suffering from dementia. A professional in-home caregiver can help find ways to make homes safe for loved ones with dementia, while also providing the patient with expert medical attention in the comfort and familiarity of their own home.