Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and motor neuron disease share a propensity to occur with increasing age and as either a sporadic or a familial disorder. A number of behavioral and environmental risk factors have been proposed for each disorder, but most associations lack consistency and specificity. Over the last decade the remarkable frequency of these disorders has become apparent, and the identification of mutations in genes has provided the means to understand their pathogenesis. Better and more accurate means to characterize and diagnose these diseases has greatly facilitated analytic epidemiology. The analysis of behavioral and genetic factors that may lower disease risk has led to clinical trials that are either in progress or being planned with the aim of preventing these disorders.