Dementia needs the type of aggressive action seen for tackling HIV in the 1980s, Sir Terry Pratchett has said.
The author said the world “still doesn’t take much notice” of the disease and much more funding is needed for research.
His comments come as a new report for Alzheimer’s Research UK shows that for every UK scientist working on dementia, six work on cancer.
A national poll also found people fear dementia more than cancer or even death.
Sir Terry, patron of the charity, said: “Alzheimer’s is a large number of small tragedies usually played out behind closed doors, so in spite of the numbers living with it, the world still doesn’t take much notice.
“When the world was shocked by HIV in the 80s we saw a crash programme of research which has helped tame it enormously.
“We need the same kind of aggressive action on dementia now.”
The YouGov poll of more than 2,000 people marks the re-launch of Alzheimer’s Research Trust as Alzheimer’s Research UK.
The charity is appealing to the public, government and the private sector to help end years of “pitifully low” investment in research.
Asked what they feared the most, 31% of people surveyed for the charity said dementia, while 27% were most scared of cancer, 18% feared death and 7% feared going bankrupt.
Some 52% of people aged 30 to 50 said they were worried about their parents developing dementia, compared with 42% fearing cancer and 33% a heart attack.
Among those who were retired, 34% said they were most scared of dementia as they got older - more than the 33% who were worried about money.
When asked specifically which health conditions they were concerned about, 52% of this age group said dementia, 33% said cancer and 30% said stroke.
Dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion, more than cancer (£12 billion) and heart disease (£8 billion) combined, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Care services minister Paul Burstow said: “Dementia is one of the biggest challenges our society faces. As our population ages we need to better understand the disease if we are to counter its effects more successfully. Research is the key to developing new treatments, transforming care and ultimately to finding a cure for this devastating disease.
“The Department of Health’s research budget is nearly a billion this year - I want more of that funding to be supporting dementia research. But we can only do that if the number and quality of the research proposals are of the right standard to justify the investment.
“To help dementia sufferers and their families to benefit, we will help researchers to submit high quality proposals which advance our understanding of care, cure and cause.”
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