IT is one of the things we fear most about old age, and if things do not change, one in three of us will be struck down by the debilitating disease.

Over the next decade Hampshire and Southampton will see the number of people suffering from dementia increase by 40 per cent, to more than 28,500.

So a call to arms by the Prime Minister yesterday to tackle the “national crisis” of dementia and end the “scandal” of ignorance has been welcomed by Hampshire’s leading experts and carers.

Researchers at the University of Southampton, which is already a leading centre for dementia research, hope that the extra funding promised by David Cameron will ensure the city’s international reputation.

Yesterday, Mr Cameron announced the first ever Prime Ministerial challenge on dementia, outlining plans to boost research by doubling funding to £66m by 2015, address the quality of dementia care and increase the understanding of the condition.

Dr Roxana Carare, neuroscientist at the University of Southampton, said: “The capacity for research into dementia in the UK is phenomenal – we have superb skills, ambition and knowledge.

“Unfortunately, up until now, anxiety about the lack of funding in dementia research dampens the enthusiasm of scientists and the quest for securing funds takes valuable time away from the laboratory.

“This announcement will revitalise researchers and renew optimism in the field.

“Southampton is already a leading centre for dementia research and we hope that this money will continue that reputation and bring in new, young talent to the city that will make a difference to ensure fewer people suffer from this disease.”

Currently in Hampshire and Southampton, 20,541 people are suffering from the disease and this is expected to rise to about 28,847 by 2021 – an increase of 40 per cent.

And if nothing is done now to improve rates of diagnosis, about 15,000 will be unknowingly living with the disease.

Jane Ward, 50, from Bishop’s Waltham, has been caring for her mother, Ella Fuller, 83, since she was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2008. She believes the UK is facing a crisis similar to that of the cancer scare in the 1970s.

Jane said: “The statistics are shocking and I think the major problem is that many people are in denial because, like with cancer in the 1970s, they don’t see a future once dementia has been diagnosed.

“But with more awareness people can learn that this is not the case and although there are bad days and the disease does get worse, catching it early is vital because it can slow the progression.

"I would never claim living with dementia is easy, and I would give anything for Mum to be back to her independent self, but there can be wonderful moments.

“People also need to know that there are groups out there to help which have proven vital for me, from day centres that give me a break to support groups. It all helps to make life a little easier.”