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The contribution of vascular disease to cognitive impairment is under-recognized and the pathogenesis is poorly understood. This information gap has multiple causes, including a lack of post-mortem validation of clinical diagnoses of vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) or vascular dementia (VaD), the exclusion of cases with concomitant neurodegenerative disease when diagnosing VCI/VaD, and a lack of standardization of neuropathological assessment protocols for vascular disease. Other contributors include a focus on end-stage destructive lesions to the exclusion of more subtle types of diffuse brain injury, on structural abnormalities of arteries and arterioles to the exclusion of non-structural abnormalities and capillary damage, and the use of post-mortem sampling strategies that are biased towards the identification of neurodegenerative pathologies. Recent studies have demonstrated the value of detailed neuropathology in characterizing vascular contributions to cognitive impairment (e.g. in diabetes), and highlight the importance of diffuse white matter changes, capillary damage and vasoregulatory abnormalities in VCI/VaD. The use of standardized, evidence-based post-mortem assessment protocols and the inclusion of biochemical as well as morphological methods in neuropathological studies should improve the accuracy of determination of the contribution of vascular disease to cognitive impairment and clarify the relative contribution of different pathogenic processes to the tissue damage.