A 68-year-old woman suffering from dementia is in serious condition after her son and daughter-in-law allegedly moved her into an uninsulated garage in their Toronto house for much of the winter.

An investigation into what police allege is a serious case of elder abuse began last Wednesday after emergency services were called about an unconscious woman at the house near McCowan Road and Finch Avenue East in Scarborough.

After the woman was taken to hospital, she suffered a stroke and was placed on life support. Medical staff told police the woman had likely been badly neglected for some time.

Police said the woman was breathing on her own again by Monday afternoon, but her condition is listed as serious.

"She was suffering from what appeared to be a case of frostbite," Det. Mike Stones said. "She was unconscious and non-responsive. Upon arrival at hospital, the medical staff informed us that her stomach was empty. She had white urine, her skin was cold to the touch."

After the woman was taken to hospital, police searched the garage. Inside they found a box of adult diapers, one piece of bread and a mattress on top of a sheet of plywood, they said.

No access to house

They said the woman was using a portable toilet and had only a bucket for washing. Police believe she had no access to the house.

Police told CBC News the garage had been converted into a makeshift bedroom and was unfit for human habitation. 

"I'm disgusted," Stones said as he described the woman's living conditions.

"The heating source for that garage provided a maximum heat which was some 20 C cooler than that inside the house."

Stones said the adjoining two-storey house has two empty bedrooms, including one right beside a bathroom.

The woman's son and daughter-in-law were charged Friday with failing to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

Neighbours who spoke to CBC News were surprised at the discovery and described the family as quiet. A woman leaving the house Monday would not comment on the case.

Police said family members are looking after the charged couple's six-year-old daughter while they are in jail. Police said there were two tenants living in the house but also two empty bedrooms.

Police said the woman was moved into the garage in November when her son became her legal guardian.

Experts who spoke to CBC News said elder abuse goes largely unreported.

"The estimate is that six to eight per cent of the older population are victims of abuse in Canada," said Judith Wahl of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.