The role of MRI in dementia

Ital J Neurol Sci. 1999;20(5 Suppl):S250-3. doi: 10.1007/s100729970006.


Neuroimaging techniques aimed at studying structural changes of the brain may provide useful information for the diagnosis and the clinical management of patients with dementia. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may show abnormalities amenable to surgical treatment in a significant percentage of patients with cognitive impairment. MRI may also assist the differential diagnosis in dementia associated with metabolic or inflammatory diseases.MRI has the potential to detect focal signal abnormalities which may assist the clinical differentiation between Alzheimer's disease (AD) and vascular dementia (VaD). Severe temporal atrophy, hyperintensities involving the hippocampal or insular cortex, and gyral hypointense bands are more frequently noted in AD. Basal ganglionic/thalamic hyperintense foci, thromboembolic infarctions, confluent white matter and irregular periventricular hyperintensities are more common in VaD. The high sensitivity of MRI in detecting T2 hyperintense lesions and the low specificity off white matter lesions have resulted in a poor correlation between MRI findings and both neuropathological and clinical manifestations. In particular, MRI has disclosed a series of white matter focal changes in the elderly population, which are not necessarily associated with cognitive dysfunction. The recent advent of a new MRI method sensitive to the microstructural changes of white matter, the so-called diffusion tensor imaging, may be helpful in correlating clinical manifestations with white matter abnormalities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Brain / pathology
  • Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Dementia, Vascular / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*