A Queensland aged care worker ‘spiked’ the drinks of two elderly women with a sedative so that they would sleep through the night, the Townsville Magistrate’s Court has heard.

The two women, who were aged 95 and 93 at the time of the incident, both had severe dementia and often woke during the night and walked around the nursing home.

Farren John Wallace added the prescription-only medication Mersyndol into the women’s drinks so that they would sleep through the night.

Witnesses who saw what Mr Wallace was doing queried him, and the court heard he told one of them, “I just want to have a quiet night,” and told them not to say anything.

Magistrate Ross Mack said the offence was committed to make Wallace’s night easier, but he did not consider what effects the medication could have on the vulnerable women.

One woman’s doctor said his patient was already on the maximum dosage of codeine, an ingredient of Mersyndol.

A breach of trust

Mr Mack said, ladies such as the two victims are placed in nursing homes “so they can be safe and cared for in their twilight years.

“Families entrust their elderly family members to these institutions to be cared for in a dignified way.

“That trust was in this case breached in the most selfish way and you stand condemned for that breach of trust and your cavalier attitude to the possible effects the drug may have had on the victims.”

Mr Wallace’s barrister, Harvey Walters, said Mr Wallace was sorry for what he had done, and that he would no longer be able to work as a carer at the nursing home, where he had worked for 20 years.

Wallace was sentenced to six months in prison, but his sentence was suspended.

Dignity must be respected

When these two women were placed into care at the nursing home, their families would have expected they would be kept safe and would be looked after during a vulnerable and high-needs stage of their life.

However, in this incident, the carer placed his own desire for a quiet night ahead of the women’s dignity or choice. He jeopardised their safety, and did not appropriately take care of their needs.

Waking at night and wanting to walk around can be a symptom of dementia, and can be an expression of an unmet need. It can be caused by:

  • The person being in a new environment
  • Excess energy
  • Confusing of day and night
  • Feeling agitated
  • Dreams
  • Boredom
  • Experiencing pain

If a resident is waking at night and getting out of bed, carers should speak to the resident’s doctor to see if illness or pain is causing discomfort. Sometimes increasing physical activity can help residents sleep better. Make sure any hazards are removed that could cause the resident to fall.

The appropriate management should respect the dignity of the person who is living with dementia.

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