From the earliest stages of development, when cerebral angiogenesis and neurogenesis are entwined, to the end of life, the interplay between vascular and neural systems of the brain is critical in health and disease. Cerebral microvascular endothelial cells constitute the blood–brain barrier and in concert with pericytes or smooth muscle cells, glia and neurons, integrate into a functional neurovascular unit (NVU). This multicellular NVU maintains homoeostasis of the brain’s microenvironment by restricting the entry of systemic pathogens and neurotoxins as well as meeting the metabolic demands of neural activity. Recent evidence of cerebral microvascular pathologies in vascular diseases and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, has challenged the notion that vascular events are merely the consequence of neuronal pathology. This review focuses on molecular mechanisms of neurovascular dysfunction in dementia and outlines currently employed in vitro models to decode such mechanisms. Deciphering neurovascular crosstalk is likely to be more important in understanding the molecular mechanisms of disease than previously anticipated and may offer novel therapeutic opportunities for dementia and related conditions.