Serum albumin levels probably predict subsequent mortality in the elderly, but it is not clear whether this is independent of disease. A 3 year prospective study of 2342 healthy non-institutionalized men and women aged 50-89 years old, residing in Rancho Bernardo, California, confirmed the following findings. Serum albumin levels decreased with increasing age in both men and women, and this association was independent of health status. In addition, for every standard deviation decrease in albumin, the relative odds of dying was 1.24 (p = 0.04), after adjusting for age, sex and lifestyle factors such as smoking, exercise and alcohol consumption. Separating the study sample into those who did and did not report disease at baseline did not appreciably alter these findings. Most of the albumin levels of the older adults (70-89) fall within the normal and narrow range of the younger adults (50-69), nevertheless, albumin levels predict outcome independent of known disease. The albumin-early mortality association suggests that serum albumin levels are a predictor for subclinical disease in the healthy elderly.