Background: We report a case in which a family member caring for her mother with dementia developed Wernicke encephalopathy, which is a neuropsychiatric disorder caused by acute/subacute thiamine deficiency, during the course of care.
Case presentation: A 63-year-old woman consulted our psychiatric outpatient clinic complaining of difficulty in providing care. She had started caring for her mother with dementia 6 months previously, during which time she began to feel tired. In addition, a loss of appetite had appeared 2 months prior to her visit, and this had decreased to about 30% of normal from 10 days previously. Neurologically, she experienced mild unsteadiness, but she was fully conscious and had no ocular symptoms. Based on the fact that the store of thiamine in the body is exhausted in about 18 days, the possibility of thiamine deficiency was considered, and her unsteadiness disappeared after an intravenous injection of thiamine. Test results showed her serum thiamine level to be abnormally low, and the patient was diagnosed with Wernicke encephalopathy.
Conclusions: The burden of caring for a dementia patient may affect the nutritional status of the family caregiver. Thiamine deficiency should be one of the items considered as a nutritional issue in such caregivers.