Both simple and disjunctive reaction times (RT) are known to slow with aging but there is a paucity of information on RT changes in senility. Since disjunctive RT involves cognition in addition to the sensory-motor speed and attentional components of simple RT, it was hypothesized that disjunctive RT would be a reliable index of age-related mental decline. To test this prediction, simple and disjunctive RT were measured in matched groups of 20 normal and 20 cognitively impaired elderly. Simple RT was slower in the senile patients than in the normal subjects, but this difference was accounted for by differences in disjunctive RT. The senile patients showed a much larger performance decrement with respect to disjunctive RT than did the normal subjects--a difference which was not accounted for by differences in simple RT. In a discriminant function analysis, disjunctive RT alone correctly identified the senile patients and the normal subjects with 86% accuracy. Thus, this measure proved to be a reliable index of age-related mental decline. Preliminary data indicate that disjunctive RT slowing is correlated with non-memory mental decline, and that poor performance is related to the need for care and supervision.