Lewy bodies and dystrophic neurites have been considered a common substrate for dementia, but they are also frequently found in the normal elderly population. The primary component of this pathology involves α-synuclein. The main objective of the present study was to estimate the prevalence of α-synuclein pathology in aged population, and to assess its relative significance in relation to dementia. The study also investigated whether differences could be detected in α-synuclein pathology in relation to age, gender or concomitant Alzheimer's pathology. Furthermore, the influence of sampling strategies was analysed. α-Synuclein pathology was assessed using immunohistochemistry in well-characterized post-mortem material. The investigation included patients from a longitudinal study of dementia of Alzheimer's type (n = 103, 85% demented), subjects from a prospective longitudinal clinical study of ageing (n = 69, 29% demented), a cohort of consecutive clinical post-mortem cases collected for 1 year (n = 262, 12% demented), a sample of forensic post-mortem cases collected for 6 months (n = 121, 15% demented) and a sample of Brain Bank material (n = 234, 26% demented). Overall, α-synuclein pathology was found in 14% of all 774 subjects over 40 years of age, and this percentage varied from 8% to 27% according to sampling strategies. These results indicate that the prevalence of α-synuclein pathology clearly depends on the selection of material. Furthermore α-synuclein pathology was found in 23% of clinically demented patients and in 11% of non-demented subjects. The load of α-synuclein pathology was significantly greater in the demented patients versus non-demented subjects indicating that α-synuclein pathology is indeed of importance in the pathogenesis of dementia.