The relationships between early life variables, cognitive function, and neuropathology were examined in participants in the Nun Study who were between the ages of 75 and 95. Our early life variable was idea density, which is a measure of linguistic ability, derived from autobiographies written at a mean age of 22 years. Six discrete categories of cognitive function, including mild cognitive impairments, were evaluated, using the Consortium to Establish a Registry for Alzheimer's Disease (CERAD) battery of cognitive tests. Neuropathologic data included Braak staging, neurofibrillary tangle and senile plaque counts, brain weight, degree of cerebral atrophy, severity of atherosclerosis, and the presence of brain infarcts. Early-life idea density was significantly related to the categories of late-life cognitive function, including mild cognitive impairments: low idea density was associated with greater impairment. Low idea density also was significantly associated with lower brain weight, higher degree of cerebral atrophy, more severe neurofibrillary pathology, and the likelihood of meeting neuropathologic criteria for Alzheimer's disease.