Abstract The mixed alpha(1)/alpha(2) adrenoceptor agonist clonidine has been shown by us previously to impair certain attentional and executive functions in healthy volunteers. The present investigation examines the effects of the alpha(2) adrenoceptor antagonist idazoxan (IDZ) on cognitive function in patients with dementia of frontal type (DFT). Using a placebo-controlled ABBA design, three DFT patients were given two doses of IDZ and tested on a range of computerised tests of attention, memory and executive function. Idazoxan was found to produce dose-dependent improvements in performance, particularly on tests of planning, sustained attention, verbal fluency and episodic memory. In contrast, IDZ produced deficits in performance on a test of spatial working memory. These results suggest that IDZ may be useful as a putative cognitive enhancer, particularly in patients showing a specific pattern of frontal lobe dysfunction.