Dementia poses a huge emotional, social, and psychological challenge to patients, families, and caregivers. The condition affects the memory and thinking skills of an estimated 5.5 million people of all ages in the United States. The exact causes of dementia are complex and still not understood, leading to misconceptions and myths.

The progressive neurological disorder is on the wane; previous research has found the dementia rate in Americans 65 and older has fallen by 24 percent over a period of 12 years; it was 8.8 percent in 2012, falling from 11.6 percent in 2000. That same year, the average age of people who received a dementia diagnosis was 80.7, compared to an average age of 82.4 in 2012.

Although the condition has declined, there is a growing older population in the U.S. that will continue to live well into their 80s, an age group that is at the highest risk for dementia. This means the dementia rate likely will rise, so it's imperative to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the neurological disorder.

Dementia is a natural part of aging

False: The body and brain do change as we age, but intelligence remains stable. Although people are less physically and mentally flexible, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are not a normal part of aging. For example, if it were a natural part of aging, everyone 65 and older would be diagnosed with it, but it only affects 15 percent of the population 65 and over with rates increasing in old age.

Alzheimer's disease and dementia are the same things

False: Dementia is a term used to describe a series of diseases that lead to the symptoms of dementia, including impaired thinking and memory. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia; about 60 to 80 percent of people who have dementia have Alzheimer's. The disease is a progressive condition that gets worse over time and is characterized by common symptoms, including difficulty carrying coversation or performing everyday tasks, confusion, aggression, and mood changes.

Dementia has a bigger impact on women

True: Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer's disease; about two-thirds of more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's are women, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Researchers hypothesize two reasons why the disease affects more women than men: women generally live longer than men, making them more likely to reach the ages of greater risk; and they may have unique biological mechanisms that contribute to underlying brain changes, progression, and the manifestation of Alzheimer's disease symptoms.

Carers of people with dementia experience high strain

True: People who care for those with dementia can be overwhelmed and experience a great deal of stress. These stresses include physical, emotional and economic pressures. It's the most expensive disease in the U.S., costing up to $215 billion a year to care for dementia patients. Caring for someone with dementia requires time and patience, which can be taxing on the caregiver.

Dispelling dementia myths can help us understand the issues people with dementia and their families and caregivers face on a daily basis.