Dementia costs the country £23bn a year - more than cancer and heart disease combined - but receives a fraction of the funding, according to a “wake up call” report.

The number of sufferers, at 822,000, is also 17 per cent higher than has previously been estimated and will pass the one million mark before 2025, the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said.

This report shows that dementia is the greatest medical challenge of the 21st century

Revealing stark differences in research funding, it calculated that for every pound spent on dementia studies, £12 is spent on investigating cancer and £3 on heart disease.

Alzheimer’s Research Trust chief executive Rebecca Wood called for greater resources to fight the condition, saying: “The true impact of dementia has been ignored for too long.

“The UK’s dementia crisis is worse than we feared. This report shows that dementia is the greatest medical challenge of the 21st century.”

She added: “If we spend a more proportionate sum on dementia research, we could unleash the full potential of our scientists in their race for a cure.

“Spending millions now really can save us crippling multi-billion pound care bills later.”

According to the report, which was prepared with experts from Oxford University, dementia’s overall annual cost dwarfs the £12bn cost for cancer care and the £8bn for heart disease.

The £23bn is made up of £9bn in social care costs, £12bn in unpaid care and £1.2bn in healthcare costs.

Each dementia patient costs the economy £27,647 each year, researchers found, nearly five times more than a cancer patient and eight times more than someone suffering from heart disease.