Out of sight, out of mind? Widow with severe dementia kept locked in bungalow

An 88-year-old Hitchin widow with severe dementia was locked in her home for weeks by social service

An 88-year-old Hitchin widow with severe dementia was locked in her home for weeks by social services. File photo. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

An 88-year-old widow living with dementia so severe she does not know her husband has died was kept locked in their old home for weeks by social services.

The woman, who we are not identifying, remains in the house in Hitchin she and her husband shared until his death earlier this year – with multiple visits each day from social services to help her with food, washing and so on.

A friend of hers became extremely concerned about her situation when he found she could not open the doors or windows – and told the Comet she was “locked in like a prisoner”, and should be moved to a care home for her well-being and safety.

The modest bungalow looked like any other as we approached in the early morning, and through the window she looked like an ordinary older lady – sitting at the table with a mug and two slices of apparently untouched toast.

But when her friend of more than 40 years knocked on the door’s window pane and she came to the threshold, it became clear that things were not as they should be – as she failed to recognise him.

She feebly clutched at the immovable handles of first the kitchen door and then the window as her heartbroken friend outside the glass pleaded with her to remember her own name, to no avail. When he asked where her husband was, she said she didn’t know.

Her friend told the Comet he was particularly worried about what might happen to her in the event of fire or some other emergency, as she could not get out of the house and it was unclear how or indeed whether she would call for help.

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“She’s quite literally out of it,” he said. “She doesn’t know what planet she’s on. We’ve got a woman there who doesn’t know what she’s doing, locked in on her own. It can’t be right, can it?

“I’m really upset and angry. She’s locked in like a prisoner. In an accident she couldn’t get out.

“I’ve told the people who come there to help that she should be in a home. They said they agreed, but nothing’s happened.”

The woman and her husband had no siblings or children, so in recent years they were “literally on their own”, her friend said.

“I think the last time they went out was with us two years ago,” he said. “It was pretty upsetting.”

He has carried on calling in on them every six weeks or so – but when he arrived for his most recent visit, he was confronted by a new notice on the door saying ‘please lock this door at all times’.

“There was a new keypad next to it,” he said.

“I could only get in after social services turned up. I asked them where her husband was, and they said he had died four weeks before – he went into hospital and then came home and died in his bed.

“Then I asked if there had been a funeral. She didn’t know, and they couldn’t tell me either.”

The man has also expressed horror at the state of his friend’s long and curling yellow toenails, which are visible at all times as she wears no footwear – and, in his words, “more horrific than photos can show”.

Asked to sum the whole situation up, he said the position of Herts County Council social services “beggared belief”.

The Comet contacted the county council about this case on Tuesday. By this morning, the ‘please lock this door at all times’ sign was gone and the doors could be opened.

The woman’s friend has found her husband is yet to have a funeral, as solicitors responsible for his body are still awaiting a court’s permission to carry out the burial. He said that when he contacted the lawyers, they asked if he could arrange the funeral.

The county council’s social services department will not discuss individual cases, but agreed to give a statement about how it handles cases of dementia.

A spokeswoman said: “Our social workers and care practitioners assess those who live in their own homes and require a care package. These assessments are carried out on a regular basis and take into account a range of needs such as dementia or mobility problems. These assessments are also reviewed if an individual’s circumstances change at any point.

“There are a range of measures that can be implemented when an individual suffers from dementia to help them stay in their own home safely, such as IT sensor equipment and extra monitoring. We always aim to keep our residents living at home independently for as long as possible as this causes less distress as they are in familiar surroundings. However, if the individual is not safe at home we do need to consider other options.

“Hertfordshire County Council look after vulnerable people in their homes providing care packages to suit a variety of needs. We continue to urge neighbours and friends to share any concerns they have about an individual living with dementia within their community.”