The coupling of mentation to regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) has prompted the application of the Xe-133 inhalation method of measuring rCBF in the differential diagnosis of the two most common dementing diseases, Alzheimer's disease and multi-infarct dementia (MID). In this study receiver-operating-characteristic (ROC) curve analysis was used to assess the effectiveness of a 32 detector Xe-133 inhalation system in discriminating between patients with Alzheimer's disease and normal controls, MID patients and normal controls and between patients with Alzheimer's disease and MID. The populations were clinically evaluated as 1) normal (age 63.1 + 13.1, n=23), 2) Alzheimer's disease (age 72.7 + 7.0, n=82), 3) MID (age 76.4 + 7.6, n=27): The mean flow values for all detectors were lowest for the Alzheimer's disease group, larger for the MID group and largest for the normal controls. The dynamic relationship between the correct identifications (true posi-tives) versus incorrect identifications (false positives) per detector for any 2 pairs of clinical groups varies as the cutoff value of flow is changed over the range of experimental blood flow values. Therefore a quantitative characterization of the "decision" or ROC curve (TP vs FP) for each detector and for each pair of clinical groups provides a measure of the overall diagnostic efficacy of the detector. Detectors directed approximately toward the speech, auditory and association cortices were most effective in disciminatinq between each of the dementia groups and the controls. Frontal detectors were diagnostically inefficient. The Xe-133 inhalation system provided virtually no diagnostic power in discriminating between the two forms of dementia, however. Therefore this imaging technology is most useful when assessing the general diagnostic state of dementia (Alz-heimer's disease and MID) from normal cognitive function.