A PENSIONER died from hypothermia because he was scared to spend money on heating the house he had lived in all his life.

An inquest heard how independent 78-year-old bachelor David Cooper, of Brampton Abbotts, near Ross-on- Wye, neglected himself to such an extent he brought about his own death.

Speaking after the inquest, Janet MacDonald, manager of Age Concern Ross-on-Wye, to whom Mr Cooper was not known, said the case highlighted what her team could come up against in helping tackle isolation and hardship among the county’s rural elderly.

Just one related project, run by Age Concern’s Ross branch for the past two years, already has more than 500 clients and relies on grant funding to keep going.

“There is a huge job to be done in assessing who is out there and the help they might need,” said Mrs MacDonald.

However, the extent of that help, whether offered through Age Concern or other agencies, depended on the individual.

She added: “We have our success stories, but it’s often hard just to make that first contact.

“Some simply refuse all help, even paramedics, if they think their independence or home is going to be compromised.”

The inquest in Gloucester heard how Mr Cooper, a retired storekeeper with a keen interest in gardening and birdwatching, shared an “unmodernised”

family home with his mother until her death.

In evidence, neighbour Pamela Stevenson said she watched out for Mr Cooper to cook him meals or help with shopping.

He had, she said, fallen a couple of times and was walking with a stick but would not go to the doctor.

Over the run up to Christmas last year Mr Cooper became “vague and unfocused” refusing to turn on an electric fire – as temperatures in the house dropped sharply – because he feared it could cost too much, said Mrs Stevenson.

When a cousin of Mr Cooper’s called with worries about his welfare, Mrs Stevenson had to smash a way into the house.

Inside she found furniture in disorder, the telephone cable ripped from the wall, and a “very cold” Mr Cooper collapsed.

Rushed to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Mr Cooper was found to have severe hypothermia. Despite treatment he suffered a heart attack and deteriorated rapidly.

Pathologist Dr John McCarthy said it was unusual for someone with a body temperature as low as Mr Cooper’s to survive. Though hypothermia was the key cause of death, the pensioner also had significant heart disease, said Dr McCarthy.

Coroner Alan Crickmore recorded a verdcit that Mr Cooper died through self-neglect.

He said: “Mr Cooper was a very independent man, but from the state of his home and of him, it was obvious that he had not been taking proper care of himself and making sure he had enough heat in his home.”

■ A couple from near Ross-on-Wye have thanked Age Concern for the help that they received.

The charity came to the aid of Betty Davis, aged 73, and her husband Douglas, 77, after they had no central heating in late 2008.

Janet MacDonald, manager of the Ross-0n-Wye branch, contacted Herefordshire Council and a new boiler was installed. “Janet was marvellous and got in touch with the council really quickly,” said Mrs Davis.

“My husband has had five strokes, but Age Concern have gone through with him what he is entitled to and have given us a lot of good advice.

“People should know that the help is out there if they need it.”

Age Concern Herefordshire has a gateway free phone number 0800 195 4550 through which help can be accessed.