People who provide care for the elderly are more six times more likely to develop dementia compared to those who do not have to provide such assistance, a recent study conducted by the American Geriatrics Society has suggested.

Care giving people may be forced to take up several new roles in their life as their spouses become increasingly immobilized and ineffective in the wake of the onset of dementia and begin displaying varied symptoms of the memory stealing disease.

For those people who were groomed in a traditional fashion, the role reversal can be uncomfortable. Care giving wives, for example, have to adjust to paying the bills and doing house and lawn maintenance, while care giving husbands have to learn to cook and clean and keep social ties alive.

For couples in their 70s and 80s, the challenges can be considerable, says the study. No one feels more “caregiver burden” than the elderly spouses of dementia patients as the ongoing emotional and physical stress of providing care is perhaps too high.

In fact the care giving spouses are forced to confront the living death of the person they knew, as well as nurturing their own growing tide of grief. And quite often, they pay the price in terms of their own health.

Elderly care giving spouses have a 63 percent higher chance of dying than people the same age who aren't caring for a spouse, says the American Medical Association. They're at particular risk of developing depression and sleep problems.

"We encourage caregivers to take care of themselves first," says Denise Davis, Alzheimer's Association program director. "With any disease, whether its dementia, stroke or cancer, the caregiver needs to be taken care of, as well. So many of them think they can do it all, and they can do it best. It's hard for them to let go."

Dementia is significant loss of intellectual abilities such as memory capacity. It is reported in more than 10 percent of adults above the age of 60 years. Moreover, it has been estimated that the frequency of dementia doubles every five years after 60 years.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Among other causes are medical conditions such as thyroid disease, drug toxicity, thiamine deficiency with alcoholism and brain injury, strokes, multiple sclerosis, infection of the brain such as meningitis and syphilis, HIV infection, hydrocephalus, Pick's disease, and brain tumours.