Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and subcortical ischemic vascular disease (SIVD) are common causes of dementia, often co-occur, and can present quite similarly, making differential diagnosis clinically challenging. This study tested the hypothesis that patients with SIVD retain information better than AD patients. Participants were 35 dementia patients with subcortical lacunes (SIVD group), 27 dementia patients without lacunar infarction (AD group), and 56 normal controls. Results indicated that despite comparable levels of initial acquisition, AD patients showed more rapid forgetting. Further analysis indicated that memory patterns within the SIVD group were heterogeneous, with some participants exhibiting rapid forgetting and some exhibiting good retention. SIVD participants with good retention showed a trend for greater executive impairments relative to SIVD participants with rapid forgetting and AD participants. Results suggest that rapid forgetting in SIVD may imply concomitant AD, whereas the dementia in patients with good retention may be purely vascular in origin. Three SIVD patients with rapid forgetting followed to autopsy all had AD pathology, further supporting the link between memory patterns and AD.