Background and purpose: Vascular dementia (VAD) is a complex diagnosis at times difficult to distinguish from Alzheimer's disease (AD). MRI scans often show white matter hyperintensities (WMH) in both conditions. WMH increase with age, and both VAD and AD are associated with aging, thus presenting an attribution conundrum. In this study, we sought to show whether the amount of WMH in deep white matter (dWMH), versus periventricular white matter (PVH), would aid in the distinction between VAD and AD, independent of age. Methods: Blinded semiquantitative ratings of WMH validated by objective quantitation of WMH volume from standardized MRI image acquisitions. PVH and dWMH were rated separately and independently by two different examiners using the Scheltens scale. Receiver operator characteristic (ROC) curves were generated using logistic regression to assess classification of VAD (13 patients) versus AD (129 patients). Clinical diagnoses were made in a specialty memory disorders clinic. Results: Using PVH rating alone, overall classification (area under the ROC curve, AUC) was 75%, due only to the difference in age between VAD and AD patients in our study and not PVH. In contrast, dWMH rating produced 86% classification accuracy with no independent contribution from age. A global Longstreth rating that combines dWMH and PVH gave an 88% AUC. Conclusions: Increased dWMH indicate a higher likelihood of VAD versus AD. Assessment of dWMH on MRI scans using Scheltens and Longstreth scales may aid the clinician in distinguishing the two conditions.

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Published in Brain and Behavior, v. 6, issue 3, e00438, p. 1-11.

© 2016 The Authors. Brain and Behavior published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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We gratefully acknowledge support from the United States national Institute of Aging, grant # P30 AG028383.