The diagnosis of Alzheimer disease (AD) according to current criteria is a combined clinical and pathological exercise. The clinical discrimination of AD from other types of dementia may be complicated when the patient suffers from more than one disease. In particular the concomitant presence of other neurological conditions may significantly influence the severity of cognitive deficit. In this study we analyze the extent of the influence of vascular and other neurodegenerative pathology on the cognitive deficit in a consecutive series of 88 prospectively assessed elderly subjects. We find that, for any given level of cognitive deficit, the densities of either all plaques or neuritic plaques alone in the neocortex are significantly lower in cases of AD mixed with other CNS pathology than in cases of AD with no other CNS pathology. In AD combined with cerebrovascular disease, the total plaque density makes a significant contribution to cognitive deficit, while neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) densities do not. In contrast, in pure AD tangle density is the major determinant of cognitive deficit. Our findings draw attention to the influence of coexisting brain pathologies on the clinical manifestation of dementia in subjects with AD. These findings indicate that pathological diagnostic criteria for AD should take into account such additional pathology in demented subjects. They also improve understanding of the circumstances in which the amyloid component of AD can play a decisive role in precipitating clinical dementia.