Almost 40 million people currently live with dementia but this is estimated to double over the next 20 years; despite this, research identifying modifiable risk factors is scarce. There is increasing evidence that cognitive impairment is more frequent in those with chronic lung disease than those without. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affects 210 million people, with cognitive impairment present in 60% of certain populations. Co-morbid cognitive dysfunction also appears to impact on important outcomes such as quality of life, hospitalisation and survival. This review summarises the evidence of an association between cognition, impaired lung function and obstructive lung disease. It goes on to examine the contribution of neuro-imaging to our understanding of the underlying pathophysiology. While the mechanisms of brain pathology and cognitive impairment are likely to be complex and multi-factorial, there is evidence to suggest a key role for occult cerebrovascular damage independent of traditional vascular risk factors, including smoking.