Neuropathologic studies of dementia and normal aging suffer from a lack of individuals examined for the presence and severity of dementia before death. To increase clinical information in such cases, a retrospective collateral interview was developed. Thirty-nine individuals were studied; 27 had autopsies. In all cases, the autopsy confirmed the Retrospective Collateral Dementia Interview (RCDI) diagnosis of the presence or absence of dementia; the RCDI had a sensitivity of 88% and a specificity of 80% for specifically detecting probable Alzheimer's disease. Agreement between the RCDI and premortem diagnosis was 96%; between RCDI and medical records, 100%. Agreement between RCDI staging of dementia severity and the last assessment of the living subject was 70%; between the RCDI and a brief staging at death, 86%. This validation confirms the value of postmortem interviews with close informants to assess dementia presence and severity.