Objective: The role of cerebrovascular disease in dementia in older people has been the subject of controversy. This study was undertaken to examine the prevalence of vascular disease in a prospective autopsy series of patients with clinically diagnosed dementia.
Design: Structured review of clinical and neuropathological examinations. Clinical diagnoses were assigned in accordance with the recommendations of the NINCDS/ADRDA consensus panel. Neuropathological examinations were performed at an academic neuropathology service using published consensus criteria for the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Setting: A subspecialty, outpatient dementia clinic in a university-affiliated suburban American hospital.
Participants: Eighty-seven unselected patients coming to autopsy who had undergone clinical dementia evaluation.
Results: Dementia could not be attributed to the effects of cerebrovascular disease alone in any of the 87 patients coming to autopsy. Seventy-six (87%) of the patients were found to have Alzheimer's disease (AD), 44 had AD alone, and 32 had AD in combination with cerebrovascular disease (CVD). All of the patients with signs of CVD at autopsy were also found to have some concomitant neurodegenerative disease. The absence of patients in whom vascular dementia could be diagnosed at neuropathology was not the result of recruitment bias.
Conclusion: Clinicians should maintain a high index of suspicion of AD or other neurodegenerative process in older patients whose presenting complaint is dementia, even in the presence of well documented cerebrovascular disease.