Brain microvascular pathology is a common finding in Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. However, the extent to which microvascular abnormalities cause or contribute to cognitive impairment is unclear. Noninvasive near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) can address this question, but its use for clarifying the role of microvascular dysfunction in dementia has been limited due to theoretical and practical considerations. We developed a new noninvasive NIRS method to obtain quantitative, dynamic measurements of absolute brain hemoglobin concentration and oxygen saturation and used it to show significant cerebrovascular impairments in a rat model of diet-induced vascular cognitive impairment. We fed young rats folate-deficient (FD) and control diets and measured absolute brain hemoglobin and hemodynamic parameters at rest and during transient mild hypoxia and hypercapnia. With respect to control animals, FD rats featured significantly lower brain hemoglobin concentration (724 mol/L versus 956 mol/L) and oxygen saturation (54%3% versus 65%2%). By contrast, resting arterial oxygen saturation was the same for both groups (96%4%), indicating that decrements in brain hemoglobin oxygenation were independent of blood oxygen carrying capacity. Vasomotor reactivity in response to hypercapnia was also impaired in FD rats. Our results implicate microvascular abnormality and diminished oxygen delivery as a mechanism of cognitive impairment.