Cohort studies have indicated that the survival of individuals with Down's syndrome has dramatically increased over the past 50 years. Early childhood survival in particular has shown major improvement, due largely to advances in cardiac surgery and in general health management. The present study was based on a continuous cohort of 1332 people with Down's syndrome in Western Australia, registered for intellectual disability services between 1953 and 2000. Their life expectancy was 58.6 years, 25% lived to 62.9 years, and the oldest living person is 73 years of age. Life expectancy for males was greater than females by 3.3 years. The substantial increase in survival across the study period means that the life expectancy of people with Down's syndrome is approaching that of the general population, but accompanied by a range of significant mid-life health problems. The findings are of relevance to all developed countries and have considerable implications in terms of the counselling information provided to families at risk of having a child with Down's syndrome.