We examined selective MRI features (localization and degree of white matter abnormalities, cortical and subcortical atrophy) in relation to cognitive decline in patients with cerebrovascular disease (CVD) and leukoaraiosis (LA). We enrolled 6 female and 18 male CVD patients (mean age 66.2 +/- 6.6 years) whose Magnetic Resonance Images (MRI) revealed LA and who displayed a history of stroke or TIA; none showed signs of cortical infarcts or normal pressure hydrocephalus. Two blind raters independently scored MRI scans with a high level of agreement. All patients underwent extensive clinico-neuropsychological assessment upon admission to the study and 19 were followed for an average of 48 +/- 7.6 months. Twelve patients were initially classified as non-demented and 12 as demented. Three years later, one in the former group had become demented and mental impairment had worsened for 6 patients in the latter group; these 7 subjects were labeled as "decliners". Ventricular indexes were significantly higher in the demented group and correlated with severity of mental impairment, while the degree of LA was similar in demented and non-demented subjects. Neither white matter lesions nor sulcal and ventricular enlargement differed statistically between decliners and non-decliners.