We review the literature on cognitive functioning during the transition from normal aging to clinical Alzheimer's disease (AD). There is ample empirical evidence that deficits across multiple cognitive domains are apparent years to decades before the AD diagnosis, with impairments in episodic memory representing a common cognitive manifestation of the preclinical phase of the disease. Interestingly, the magnitude of the preclinical cognitive deficits appears to be relatively stable until a few years before clinical diagnosis. The behavioural deficits associated with preclinical AD are consistent with the neural changes that appear many years before eventual diagnosis. In addition to increasing our theoretical understanding of AD development, research on cognition in preclinical AD contributes to the identification of persons at risk of developing AD for purposes of intervention.