The relation between dementia severity and regional cerebral metabolic rate of glucose was studied in 28 patients with vascular dementia (VD) in comparison with 20 age-matched patients who were suffering from Alzheimer's disease (AD) and 24 normal subjects by using positron emission tomography with fludeoxyglucose F 18. Similar metabolic impairment was found in the temporoparietal and frontal association cortex in patients with VD and in those with AD. Metabolism of the basal ganglia, thalamus, and cerebellum was reduced significantly in patients with VD only. The total volume of regions with metabolism below the 95% confidence interval of control values was significantly related to the severity of dementia but did not differ between patients with VD and those with AD. A metabolic ratio of regional cerebral glucose metabolism of association areas divided by regional cerebral glucose metabolism of structures that were typically not affected by AD was significantly lower in patients with AD than in those with VD. This ratio was also related to dementia severity in both types of dementia.