The cerebral metabolic rate for glucose (CMRglc) was measured with positron emission tomography and [18F]2-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose in 14 healthy subjects with Down's syndrome, 19 to 33 years old, and in six healthy Down's syndrome subjects over 35 years, two of whom were demented. Dementia was diagnosed from a history of mental deterioration, disorientation and hallucinations. All Down's syndrome subjects were trisomy 21 karyotype. CMRglc also was examined in 15 healthy men aged 20-35 years and in 20 healthy men aged 45-64 years. All subjects were at rest with eyes covered and ears plugged. Mean hemispheric CMRglc in the older Down's syndrome subjects was significantly less, by 23%, than in the young Down's syndrome group; statistically significant decreases in regional metabolism (rCMRglc) also were present in all lobar regions. Comparison of the younger control group with the older control group showed no difference in CMRglc or any rCMRglc (p greater than 0.05). Assessment of language, visuospatial ability, attention and memory showed significant reductions in test scores of the old as compared with the young Down's syndrome subjects. These results show that significant age differences in CMRglc and rCMRglc occur in Down's syndrome but not in healthy controls, and that, although only some older Down's syndrome subjects are demented, significant age reductions in neuropsychologic variables occur in all of them.