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Exposure death in Brandon Twp.

February 06, 2013 - An elderly Brandon Township woman with dementia died last week after wandering from her home into freezing temperatures.

According to Oakland County Sheriff's Office reports, police responded at about 10:06 a.m., Jan. 31 to a residence in the 3900 block of Oakwood Road after the homeowner discovered the deceased woman near his front porch.

The temperature was 23 degrees and it was snowing at the time of arrival of deputies and the woman was dressed in pajama bottoms and a light cotton shirt. Her jacket was found nearby, as well as her purse and walking cane.

The woman had apparently walked over to the home from the residence next door, where she lived with her son. At around the same time the neighbor found her, the woman's son discovered his mother was not in her bedroom. An autopsy confirmed the 83-year-old woman died from exposure. Video surveillance from the neighbor's home security cameras show the woman sitting down on his porch steps around 6:30 a.m.

The woman had been living with her son for two years and had been diagnosed with dementia, but other than some trouble walking was in good physical health. Her son told police she normally awakened between 9 and 10 a.m. and had never wandered from the home before.

Kim Bishop, manager of two Mindset Management adult foster care homes in the township, said dementia is a condition that progresses unpredictably. Her own mother suffers from dementia.

"They (patients with dementia) change so quickly," she said. "Some can linger with dementia for 10 years, some rapidly decline right in front of your eyes. What this gentleman was doing by caring for his elderly mother is an amazing testament of his love."

Brandon Fire Department Captain Dan Flood said it is becoming more common for people in their 60s and 70s to be caring for parents in their 80s and 90s.

"As our population ages, you have grandparents taking care of great-grandparents," he noted. "It used to be people in their 30s and 40s taking care of 60- to 70-year-olds, now the ages have risen. Once a diagnosis (of dementia) has been given, planning well into the future can be helpful, even if there has never been any indication (of an imminent problem)."

Flood and Bishop said one precautionary measure that can aid caregivers is installation of alarms that will sound when doors are opened.

"You want it to sound in a few places in the house, including the bedroom, it's like a smoke detector," said Flood. "You don't want to lock the house up in a manner that they can't get out if there's a fire. These alarms are also useful for small children. The same principles will apply."

Flood and Bishop extended their sympathy to the family of the elderly woman.

"Obviously (her son) was doing what many other people can't do, it can be very difficult to care for an elderly loved one," she said. "This is a tragic accident… Unless there is a significant, rapid, obvious decline in a loved one's mental capabilities, unless there is an incident of some kind where Mom falls down or doesn't remember how to use a fork or hairbrush, there may be no indication (of impending danger)."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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