We studied the components of the diagnostic evaluation in 200 patients older than 60 years of age with suspected dementia who received standardized diagnostic evaluation and follow-up. The most common dementia diagnoses were Alzheimer's-type dementia (74.5%) and dementia due to toxic effects of drugs (9.5%). Eleven patients with hypothyroidism, metabolic encephalopathies due to hyponatremia, hyperparathyroidism, and hypoglycemia required laboratory tests for diagnosis, whereas the other dementia diagnoses were made primarily on the basis of data available on the history and physical and neurologic examinations. The complete blood cell count, blood chemistry battery (especially sodium, calcium, and glucose concentrations), and thyroid function tests were of definite value for the diagnosis of unsuspected disease and were useful as routine tests in evaluating patients for dementia. A careful history and physical examination accompanied by complete blood cell count, chemistry battery, and a thyroid function test would have been effective in diagnosing treatable illnesses causing cognitive impairment. Other diagnostic tests could have been used selectively based on results of the examination and screening tests. Estimated diagnostic charges from a selective approach would be 25% to 34% of those for the "routine" evaluation.