DHEA and its sulfate derivative (DHEAS) decline with age. The decline in DHEAS levels has been associated with many physiological impairments in older persons including cognitive dysfunction. However, data regarding the possible relationship between DHEAS and cognition are scant. We investigated whether DHEAS levels are associated with presence and development of lower cognitive function measured by the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) in older men and women. One thousand and thirty-four residents aged > or =65 yr of the InCHIANTI Study with data available on DHEAS and MMSE were randomly selected. MMSE was administered at baseline and 3 yr later. Among these, 841 completed a 3-yr follow-up. Parsimonious models obtained by backward selection from initial fully-adjusted models were used to identify independent factors associated with MMSE and DHEAS. The final analysis was performed in 755 participants (410 men and 345 women) with MMSE score > or =21. A significant age-related decline of both DHEAS levels (p<0.001) and MMSE score (p<0.001) was found over the 3-yr follow-up. At enrolment, DHEAS was significantly and positively associated with MMSE score, independently of age and other potential confounders (beta+/-SE 0.003+/-0.001, p<0.005). Low baseline DHEAS levels were predictive of larger decline of MMSE and this relationship was significant after adjusting for covariates (beta+/-SE -0.004+/-0.002, p<0.03). Our data show a significant and positive association between DHEAS and cognitive function, assessed by MMSE test. Low DHEAS levels predict accelerated decline in MMSE score during the 3-yr follow-up period.