The sensitivity of MRI volumetric measures to detect cognitive dysfunction is examined in 39 participants of an epidemiological field study (age 75-85, MMSE 19-30). According to Clinical dementia rating (CDR), 17 subjects had normal cognition (CDR 0), 12 had questionable (CDR 0.5) and 10 mild dementia (CDR 1). Discriminant analysis based on four hippocampal measures resulted in a correct classification of 76.9% of all subjects. Left-sided and posterior hippocampal measures were more responsible for group discrimination than right-sided and anterior measures. In CDR 0.5, a significant hippocampal volume reduction of 14.3% vs.11.3% (left vs. right) relative to normal was found. The right hippocampus was significantly greater than the left in CDR 0 and CDR 0.5, but not in CDR 1. The magnitude of non-directional hippocampal asymmetry increased with decreasing cognitive state. We conclude that hippocampal atrophy is sensitive to detect cognitive dysfunction and subjects at risk for Alzheimer's disease in the elderly population.