People who provide prolonged care to family members living with dementia often develop dementia symptoms themselves, including memory loss and disorientation.

This “caregiver dementia” usually is not the result of a degenerative brain condition—it stems from stress and lack of sleep. People who experience it typically recover after their caregiving duties end. But not all do—some face elevated risk for permanent dementia. A study published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people who care for spouses who have dementia are six times more likely to later develop permanent dementia than people whose spouses are dementia-free. The study’s authors concluded that the “chronic and often severe stresses associated with dementia caregiving” might be responsible.

Four things caregivers can do…

Learn as much as possible about the specific disease affecting the person you care for. Increasing your knowledge can decrease your frustration.

Find moments of joy with your loved one. Give silent thanks for a quiet moment sitting together. Share a laugh when you can.

Take respites. Caregivers need time off. Sometimes this can be accomplished through assistance from professional caregivers, friends and other family members. When that isn’t possible, at least grant yourself five-minute respites. Step outside to take a deep breath. Walk into another room. Pet your cat or dog—research shows this is calming.

Replace obligation with empathy. Reflect on how much your loved one is trying to make sense of his/her world…and how you would feel if the roles were reversed. This can help you provide care out of a sense of love rather than duty.