Subjects in the preclinical stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD) typically record neuropsychological performance between that of healthy older individuals and demented patients. More specifically, deficits on measures of verbal episodic memory are commonly reported in these patients, while other cognitive functions (e.g. language, praxis and executive function) seem to be spared. A similar neuropsychological profile is observed in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a disorder that is attracting increasing research interest. Evidence from lesion and functional imaging studies, as well as volumetric imaging in probable AD and MCI patients, suggests that the cognitive deficits observed in these disorders may be related to medial temporal lobe dysfunction. An issue currently under investigation is whether MCI represents the preclinical stages of AD or a distinct and static cognitive aetiology. In an attempt to address this issue, present investigations are adopting a convergent approach to the detection of preclinical AD, where multiple risk factors are considered when making a diagnosis.