White matter lesions (WMLs) in normal elderly are related to chronic ischemia, and progression of WML occurs mostly in moderate to severe disease. However, the mechanism is uncertain. Thus, we enrolled fifty-six normal elderly patients without large artery disease. The severity of WML on MRI was graded as grade 0, I, II and III using the modified Fazekas scale. Cerebral blood flow (CBF) was measured by Xenon-CT. We found that CBF (mL/100 g/min) within periventricular lesions and in the right and left centrum semiovales were 20.33, 21.27 and 21.03, respectively, in group I; 16.33, 15.55 and 15.91, respectively, in group II; and 14.05, 14.46 and 14.23, respectively, in group III. CBF of normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) around periventricular areas and in the right and left centrum semiovales were 20.79, 22.26 and 22.15, respectively, in group 0; 21.12, 22.17 and 22.25, respectively, in group I; 18.02, 19.45 and 19.62, respectively, in group II; and 16.38, 18.18 and 16.74, respectively, in group III. Significant reductions in CBF were observed not only within lesions but also in NAWM surrounding the lesions. In addition, CBF was reduced significantly within lesions compared to NAWM of the same grade. Furthermore, CBF was reduced significantly in NAWM in grades II and III when compared to grades 0 and I. Our finding indicates that ischemia may play a role in the pathogenesis of WML. Additionally, our finding provides an alternative explanation for finding that the progression of WML occurred more commonly in patients with moderate to severe WML.