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HELSTON: What we can learn from an Enderby senior's tragic death

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.
March 13, 2015 - 7:41 AM

What caused Enderby senior Barbara Derenowski to start the ignition in her old pick-up truck and drive, knowingly without her licence, more than 70 kms from her home up a remote, unplowed road where her body was eventually found, remains a mystery.

We know from her neighbours she was a sweet, friendly, self-reliant woman who adored her cats. We know she had visitors once in a while, and family members in the region. We know she had dementia — though we don’t know what role, if any, it played in her death or what stage it was. We don’t know what kind of support she got from family or health care workers. We don’t know if something got missed, leaving her to slip through the cracks.

But we can still ask ourselves how many more people like her there are in our communities — people living alone with cognitive degeneration. We’re already seeing the number of dementia cases rise with our aging population. Police tell us they respond to at least one missing senior report each month, and they expect that rate to increase. Barbara was missing for two days before her body was discovered on the side of the road.

The Interior Health Authority says there are more seniors living at home with dementia, rather than in care homes, than most people think. With sufficient supports, such as home visits by care workers, the health authority takes the stance that risks can be managed while meeting peoples’ desire to live at home for as long as possible. But a patient’s needs are constantly evolving as their dementia worsens and one can only imagine the challenges in keeping up with adequate supports.

It’s all complicated by the fact that some people with dementia refuse treatment because they don’t think they need it. Remove supportive and observant family members from the equation, and you're just asking for trouble. With all these factors at play, you have to wonder how many people are going under-cared for. It's a tough situation for anyone to manage, and putting seniors in care homes is just as complicated as keeping them out of them.

This past winter, my own grandmother, who has dementia, slipped out of her residential care home after breakfast. She had no winter coat, no scarf or mittens. On instinct, she began walking in the direction of the apartment she used to share with her late husband. Fortunately, a quick-thinking police officer noticed my grandmother — later written up in the local paper as a ‘scantily clad’ wandering 88-year-old — and returned her to the care home.

I only wish someone had done the same for Barbara Derenowski; noticed something was wrong and helped her. If there’s one thing we can take from this tragedy, it’s to look out for our neighbours and for those people in our community that need a little extra support.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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