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It is well known that the burden on the families of cancer patient extends across many aspects, but there have been no reports of family members developing delirium due to the burden of caring for a cancer patient.
We reported a caregiver who developed Wernicke encephalopathy (WE) while caring for a family member with advanced cancer.
The subject was a 71-year-old woman who had been caring for her husband, diagnosed with gastric cancer and liver metastases, for 5 months. She visited the “caregivers’ clinic” after referral by an oncologist who was worried about a deterioration in her mental condition that had appeared several weeks previously. The woman had a history of diabetes mellitus. Some giddiness was observed and, based on her inability to answer questions, her level of consciousness was checked and some disorientation was observed. She was diagnosed with delirium. A blood sample was collected to investigate the cause of the delirium, but the test data showed no hypoglycemia. Her appetite had declined since her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Thiamine deficiency was suspected as thiamine stores in the body are depleted within about 18 days and her loss of appetite had continued for 5 months. On intravenous injection of 100 mg of thiamine, her consciousness level was returned to normal in 1 h. A diagnosis of WE was supported by the patient's abnormally low serum thiamine level.
Significance of the results
The family members of cancer patients may develop a loss of appetite due to the burden of caring, resulting in WE. When providing care for signs of distress in family members, it is necessary to pay attention not only to the psychological aspects but also to their level of consciousness and physical aspects, particularly the possibility of serious illness resulting from reduced nutritional status.
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