Alzheimer's disease is one of the most severe and most common chronic diseases of older persons. Because occurrence of the disease is strongly related to age, its public health impact is likely to continue to increase as the population ages. As with many other diseases, a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is made through a combination of clinical history, physical, and neurologic examination, and laboratory evaluation. Because the dominant feature of this disease is its effect on cognition, its diagnosis requires careful evaluation of cognitive function usually with formal neuropsychological performance testing. Clinical evaluation of persons for Alzheimer's disease has four objectives: (1) to determine as accurately as possible if the person has dementia; (2) if dementia is present, to determine whether its presentation and course are consistent with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease; (3) to assess evidence for any alternate diagnoses, especially if the presentation and course are atypical for Alzheimer's disease; and (4) to evaluate evidence of other, coexisting, diseases that may contribute to the dementia, with strong emphasis on conditions that might respond to treatment. There is no reliable antemortem diagnostic test for Alzheimer's disease; the main purpose of laboratory testing is to identify other conditions that might cause or exacerbate dementia. Pathologically, Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the presence of two lesions on microscopic examination of the brain: neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Both lesions can be seen in the brains of older persons without dementia. However, they are found in greater numbers in the neocortex and hippocampus with Alzheimer's disease. Caring for patients with Alzheimer's disease is demanding and requires compassion and skills that go beyond the choices among sophisticated and effective therapies that characterize much of modern medical practice. The current lack of effective pharmacotherapy for cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease should not obscure that there are many areas in which intervention can improve quality of life for both the patient and the caregiver. Achieving success in these areas typically requires that the physician work effectively with providers of many other medical and nonmedical services. Community resources, advocacy, behavior management, and experimental therapies and procedures, should be discussed with the family of each patient. In addition, persons with mild disease should be promptly informed of their diagnosis in order to obtain their wishes regarding life prolonging measures and extended care options.