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What many dementia patients have in common with the Enderby senior found dead last week

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March 10, 2015 - 4:30 PM

VERNON - More people are living independently with dementia instead of in care homes than you might think, says an Interior Health Authority doctor.

That includes people like Barbara Derenowski, 73, who drove off from her Enderby home last week without a valid driver’s licence and was found dead days later on the side of the road. Police suspect she got her truck stuck in the snow, began walking, and died of exposure. Derenowski lived alone with her cats, and few people knew she had dementia until the day she went missing.

According to Dr. Elaine French, the health authority’s community integrated health services manager, there are many people in our community living at home with dementia. The Alzheimer Society of Canada says 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, including dementia, in 2011 — or 14.9 per cent of Canadians 65 and older.

French won’t comment on Derenowski’s specific case, but says the majority of seniors with dementia do live at home as long as they possibly can.

“Often they would have support from family and friends, as well as health care providers,” Fench says. "I think we’d be surprised at how many people are living in the community with dementia.”

Health care providers could be anyone from a physician to a home care nurse or support worker, depending on the individual’s needs and the amount of support they’re willing to accept. While French believes proper supports can keep people safe in the comfort of their own home, there comes a time when it’s no longer realistic.

“At some point in the course of dementia, a person won’t be safe on their own,” French says. “But you can go a long ways living at home providing the person is willing to accept supports.”

Some people resist care, especially if dementia has affected their judgement, French says.

“Eventually there comes a point if they’re not capable and they resist they could be required to move, but you have to be quite far along with dementia before you get to that stage,” she says.

Because anyone can be affected by dementia, there’s a wide range of living situations; individuals might live with a partner, their family, or in some cases alone. Whether they’re refusing care or don’t realize they need it, French says it’s possible some individuals are living in the community with no supports whatsoever. 

“Especially early on, people can present very well and seem normal in daily interaction. Eventually, people come to the attention of the system if not through family, then maybe through friends or through neighbours, the bank or a store clerk,” French says.

The RCMP report an increasing number of situations involving individuals with cognitive impairment wandering from home — a trend that is only expected to continue with our aging population. In some cases, individuals are located quickly through missing persons alerts, or by quick-thinking community members who notice something isn’t right. Other times, these situations end in tragedies like Derenowski’s.

“People can wander and that’s one of the risks you take into account in trying to assess whether a person is managing in their home in the community,” French says.

She believes the system is working and wouldn’t comment on any particular shortcomings it may have.

“Many people are happy to accept help and they do well for a long time,” she says. “In general, it can be done safely provided supports are in place.”

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

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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