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Why Enderby's tragic dementia case won't be the last

Barbara Derenowski, 73, was reported missing by the RCMP Mar. 4. She was found deceased later that day in a remote area south of Westwold.
Image Credit: Contributed/ RCMP
March 05, 2015 - 3:29 PM

ENDERBY - The neighbours of a friendly Enderby senior are in shock after the 73-year-old went missing and was found dead in a remote fishing area far from home days later.

Barbara Nell Derenowski lived alone in a rented unit of a house on Salmon Arm Drive in Enderby. Sometime after 2:30 p.m. Monday, she drove her pick-up truck, without a valid licence, to the Salmon Lake area, about an hour and a half’s drive down a backroad south of Westwold — a good 70 kms from Enderby. Police say it looks like her truck got stuck in the snow on the unplowed road and she got out and walked. Her body was found by some fishermen in the area, and it’s believed she died of exposure to the elements.

We’ve learned from police she suffered from dementia, but none of the many neighbours who knew her could have told you that before this week.

“She was very active and social,” Sheldon Smoke says. “We saw no signs of dementia or anything out of the ordinary. I wish we’d have known, we could have kept more of an eye on her, us and the other neighbours. We could have done something more.”

Derenowski made quite an impression on her neighbours in the roughly nine months she’d been living there. She was known for always giving an enthusiastic wave to passersby, striking up long conversations, often about her cats, and for telling people that while the truck in her driveway was hers, she never drove it.

“It was one of the first things she’d tell you. She knew her license was revoked and she could not drive,” neighbour Tanya Kohlmeyer says, adding she rarely saw Derenowski off the property. “It’s surprising to me that she got in her truck and drove to a lake. I’d never heard of her taking any trips anywhere.”

A care worker — the last person to see her around 2:30 p.m. Mar. 2— came to the house on a regular basis, and Derenowski had other visitors as well, though neighbours aren’t sure if they were friends or family. The senior, who dyed her hair red and wore it in a long braid, does have family members in Salmon Arm and the Lower Mainland.

“Usually people with (dementia) have a good network of caregivers and family support — they’re never alone for very long. With Barb’s situation, I don’t know if something got missed,” Smoke says.

Derenowski’s death continues to be investigated by the police and B.C. Coroners Service but as  for what prompted her actions, RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk says “we’ll never really know, sadly.”

“There was a bit of talk that she thought she was going to buy property. Maybe that was something from her past, through her dementia, she was deteriorating back to years before,” Molendyk says. "It's a very tragic case, very sad."

He says it’s becoming more and more common for the detachment to receive reports such as this one.

“Once a month you hear reports of folks with dementia going missing and sometimes it is a tragic end,” Molendyk says. “With the aging population we have, unfortunately we will likely see and hear of it more.”

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 © iNFOnews, 2015

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