Dementia patient died from hypothermia – inquest
A MAN suffering from dementia died from hypothermia after walking out of a care home in South Nutfield last year, an inquest has heard.
Michael Wheeler went missing from the Kings Lodge home in Kings Cross Lane on October 15 and was found by police officers nine days later in a garden a few hundred yards away.
Mr Wheeler, who was 62 when he died, had been suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy, a brain condition similar to Parkinson’s disease which caused him to become confused and made it difficult for him to move.
Christine Bidwell, Mr Wheeler’s partner, said he had led a very active life as a freelance builder and rugby player, describing him as “the life and soul of the party, a larger than life character”.
But she added that he had become depressed and his health started to deteriorate in 2007.
He was diagnosed with dementia in June 2008 and referred to the Royal Alfred Seafarers Society Nursing Home in Banstead, before moving to the South Nutfield home in September.
“His mobility was becoming really bad, he had no control and he was quite subdued,” Mrs Bidwell said.
“He had always lived his life his own way, and if he didn’t want to be in a place he wouldn’t stay. He was always looking for an opportunity to get out.”
The inquest on Wednesday heard that Mr Wheeler had a history of going missing, but that he would often be found somewhere around the care home.
Janice Wheeler, Mr Wheeler’s ex-wife, said he had been increasingly restless and frustrated in the days leading up to his disappearance.
“There wasn’t a day went past that he didn’t ask me to take him out, to a bus stop, a train station, anywhere,” she said.
“He just wanted out. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t live on his own.”
He was last seen in the home at around 10.45am on October 15, and despite a police search operation and a huge campaign from his family – including thousands of posters distributed across east Surrey – he was not found until more than a week later.
Mr Wheeler’s body was discovered by officers at the bottom of a garden in Cooper’s Hill Road on October 24. He had apparently crossed a footbridge over the M23 after leaving the care home.
Dr David Fisher, the pathologist who examined the body, told the inquest at Woking Coroner’s Court that there was no evidence of a struggle and it was likely Mr Wheeler fell over in the garden and was unable to get up.
Dr Fisher said he noticed “abrasions or grazes on his back and shoulder” which suggested a fall.
“He had some reddish discoloration on his body so it seems likely he died of hypothermia or exposure,” he added.
Dr Fisher said he believed Mr Wheeler had died a day or two after he disappeared, and had remained undiscovered in the garden for more than a week.
Coroner Michael Burgess recorded a verdict of accidental death.
“Had he not had the progressive supranuclear palsy then his death probably would not have occurred as it did,” he said.