Subjects with clinically diagnosed senile dementia of the Alzheimer type (n = 37) and healthy controls (n = 5) were assessed clinically until death. Postmortem examination of the brain was performed at age 80 years or older. The brains of all of the group with dementia (except one that was found to have a non-Alzheimer dementia) had substantial densities of neocortical senile plaques regardless of dementia severity; the control brains had very few senile plaques. In those subjects with Alzheimer's disease, moderate correlations were found between dementia duration and severity (cognitive portion of the Blessed Dementia Scale and the Sum of Boxes from the Clinical Dementia Rating) and certain neuropathological lesions, both gross and microscopic. Densities of neocortical neurofibrillary tangles were related to degree of dementia; densities of neocortical senile plaques were unrelated. We conclude that (1) neocortical senile plaque densities differentiate very old subjects with Alzheimer's disease from nondemented controls, but there is a need for more postmortem studies of older persons who are free of dementia; and (2) among the microscopic lesions studied, densities of neocortical neurofibrillary tangles were most closely related to the degree and duration of dementia.