Prevailing opinion holds that normal brain aging is characterized by substantial atrophy of cortical gray matter. However, this conclusion is based on earlier studies whose findings may be influenced by the inclusion of subjects with subclinical cognitive disorders like preclinical dementia. The present magnetic resonance imaging study tested this hypothesis. Cognitively healthy subjects (mean age 72 years, range 52-82) who remained cognitively stable over a 3-year period were compared to subjects with significant cognitive decline. Subjects who developed dementia within 6 years after the scan session were excluded. The gray matter volumes of seven cortical regions were delineated on T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging scans. Participants without cognitive decline did not exhibit an age effect on the gray matter volume. Conversely, participants with cognitive decline exhibited a significant age effect in all the seven areas. These results suggest that cortical gray matter atrophy may have been overestimated in studies on healthy aging, since most studies were unable to exclude participants with a substantial atypical cognitive decline or preclinical dementia. Our results underscore the importance of establishing stringent inclusion criteria for future studies on normal aging.