Background: White matter hyperintensities (WMH) on MRI scans indicate lesions of the subcortical fiber system. The regional distribution of WMH may be related to their pathophysiology and clinical effect in vascular dementia (VaD), Alzheimer's disease (AD) and healthy aging. Methods: Regional WMH volumes were measured in MRI scans of 20 VaD patients, 25 AD patients and 22 healthy elderly subjects using FLAIR sequences and surface reconstructions from a three-dimensional MRI sequence. Results: The intraclass correlation coefficient for interrater reliability of WMH volume measurements ranged between 0.99 in the frontal and 0.72 in the occipital lobe. For each cerebral lobe, the WMH index, i.e. WMH volume divided by lobar volume, was highest in VaD and lowest in healthy controls. Within each group, the WMH index was higher in frontal and parietal lobes than in occipital and temporal lobes. Total WMH index and WMH indices in the frontal lobe correlated significantly with the MMSE score in VaD. Category fluency correlated with the frontal lobe WMH index in AD, while drawing performance correlated with parietal and temporal lobe WMH indices in VaD. Conclusions: A similar regional distribution of WMH between the three groups suggests a common (vascular) pathogenic factor leading to WMH in patients and controls. Our findings underscore the potential of regional WMH volumetry to determine correlations between subcortical pathology and cognitive impairment.