In the absence of pathognomonic clinical features, the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease (AD) remains one of exclusion of other dementias. We investigated the clinical diagnoses among 394 neuropathologically confirmed AD cases in a dementia brain bank. Most patients were correctly diagnosed as AD (348 or 88%). Among the misdiagnosed patients, AD was mistaken for a primary depressive disorder in 14, multi-infarct dementia in 13, Parkinson's disease in nine, and alcoholic dementia in four. The number of misdiagnosed AD patients did not differ between physician specialties but was greater among AD patients with agitation, depression, paranoia, or delusions. This retrospective study suggests that the diagnostic sensitivity for AD is high among a cross-section of practicing physicians and that an important factor in mistaking AD for another illness is unfamiliarity with the potential psychiatric symptoms of AD.