Clinical investigations of Alzheimer's disease (AD) have been limited by diagnostic inaccuracy. We employed explicit clinical inclusion and exclusion criteria to identify subjects with senile dementia of the Alzheimer type (SDAT). In a consecutive series of 26 postmortem examinations from this sample, AD was histologically verified in all subjects and was the primary dementing illness. Seventeen of the 26 SDAT subjects had been diagnosed when only mildly demented. Two control subjects were examined neuropathologically; AD was absent in both. We conclude that research clinical diagnostic criteria for SDAT, even in its mild stage, are valid.