White matter lesions are often observed on cerebral magnetic resonance imaging scans of elderly people and may play a role in the pathogenesis of dementia. Cross-sectional studies have shown an association between elevated blood pressure and white matter lesions. We prospectively studied the relation between blood pressure and white matter lesions in 1,077 subjects aged 60 to 90 years who were randomly sampled from two prospective population-based studies. One study had blood pressure measurements 20 years before, the other 5 years before. Overall response for the magnetic resonance imaging study was 63%, and declined from 73% among 60- to 70-year-olds to 48% for 80- to 90-year-olds. Diastolic and systolic blood pressure levels assessed 20 years before were significantly associated with subcortical and periventricular white matter lesions. The association between 20-year change in diastolic blood pressure and subcortical white matter lesions was J-shaped (relative risk, 2.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.0-5.2; and relative risk, 3.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.4-7.4, for decrease or increase of more than 10 mm Hg, respectively). The association between concurrent diastolic blood pressure level and white matter lesions was linear in subjects without, and J-shaped in subjects with, a history of myocardial infarction. Our results indicate that the J-shape relationship of diastolic blood pressure is not restricted to cardiovascular disease, but is also manifest in cerebrovascular disease.