OBJECTIVE: While a number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD) or cognitive impairment have been identified, independent replications remain the only way to validate proposed signals. We investigated SNPs in candidate genes associated with either cognitive impairment or AD pathogenesis and their relationships with probable dementia (PD) in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS). METHODS: We analyzed 96 SNPs across five genes (APOE/TOMM40, BDNF, COMT, SORL1, and KIBRA) in 2857 women (ages >/=65) from the WHIMS randomized trials of hormone therapy using a custom Illumina GoldenGate assay; 19% of the sample were MCI (N = 165) or PD (N = 387), and the remaining 81% were free of cognitive impairment. SNP associations were evaluated for PD in non-Hispanic whites adjusting for age and HT using logistic regression under an additive genetic model. RESULTS: One SNP (rs157582), located in the TOMM40 gene nearby APOE, was associated with the PD phenotype based on a P value accounting for multiple comparisons. An additional 12 SNPs were associated with the PD phenotype at P = 0.05 (APOE: rs405509, rs439401; TOMM40: rs8106922, and KIBRA: rs4320284, rs11740112, rs10040267, rs13171394, rs6555802, rs2241368, rs244904, rs6555805, and rs10475878). Results of the sensitivity analyes excluding MCI were similar, with addition of COMT rs737865 and BDNF rs1491850 (P = 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Our results in older women provide supporting evidence that the APOE/TOMM40 genes confer dementia risk and extend these findings to COMT, BDNF, and KIBRA. Our findings may lead to a better understanding of the role these genes play in cognition and cognitive impairment.