An Adelaide man with Alzheimer’s disease attending a Commonwealth-funded respite program was missing for up to an hour-and-a-half on a 39-degree Celsius day before staff noticed, a coronial inquest has heard.

Key points:

  • John James Bentley, 80, died after going missing from an aged care day program
  • Mr Bentley died from dehydration and the impact of extreme heat
  • A coronial inquest will probe whether improvements can be made to ensure the safety of respite patients

John James Bentley was found dead in Adelaide’s south in January 2017, two days after he was reported missing from his weekly respite care at not-for-profit aged care provider ECH’s Southern Day Program.

A coronial inquest into the 80-year-old’s death will probe whether improvements can be made to ensure the safety of dementia patients at Commonwealth-funded respite programs.

The inquest heard Mr Bentley died from dehydration and the impact of extreme heat on the day he disappeared, with his Alzheimer’s disease an indirect, contributing factor.

Mr Bentley attended the Southern Day Program on Fridays to give his wife of 50 years some respite but on January 6, 2017, the program was being held at a new location at the Southern Wellness Centre in Morphett Vale.

The inquest heard the former South Australian footballer was still a fit man who enjoyed walking but found it difficult to cope in unfamiliar environments.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Emma Roper, told the inquest his wife would not have allowed him to attend that day if she had known beforehand.

Due to the extreme heat, the program’s participants were watching Marley and Me with the lights dimmed and the curtains closed.

Door unlocked, staff member reported 

The inquest heard it wasn’t until the participants’ carers started arriving about 90 minutes later that Mr Bentley was noticed missing and that no-one could recall seeing Mr Bentley after the movie commenced.

A staff member later reported leaving the door unlocked shortly after the movie started.

Ms Roper told the inquest ECH did not have a missing persons procedure for the Southern Day Program, but followed one designed for the company’s residential facilities.

Two men in suits and a woman holding papers as they walk through an empty block of land beside a fence

Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel (centre) views the location where Mr Bentley’s body was found at Reynella.(ABC News: Claire Campbell)

Police were notified of Mr Bentley’s disappearance and an “extensive” air and land search was carried out over the next two days until his body was located more than 3 kilometres away near the Southern Expressway at Reynella.

The inquest will hear evidence about what measures were taken to prevent participants from “simply walking out of the facility undetected” and will probe how Mr Bentley went missing while in the care of ECH, the program’s policies and procedures and whether police were acting on accurate information from ECH staff when determining the search area.

“Your honour’s consideration will be what recommendations could be made to ensure that people suffering from dementia or other cognitive impairments can safely attend Commonwealth-funded respite programs, such as the Southern Day Program,” she told the inquest.

“It is vital that carers have access to respite services that they can trust to provide appropriate levels of care and supervision to their loved ones.”

In a statement to the ABC, ECH said the organisation’s “thoughts are with the family at this incredibly difficult time”.

The inquest before Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel continues.

Posted , updated 

Alzheimer’s patient was missing for 90 minutes on 39C day before staff noticed, inquest hears
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