Thirteen researchers from five centers in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States applied DSM-III-R and Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) syndrome-level dementia criteria to written vignettes of 100 elderly people identified in clinics or community surveys. Subjects ranged in type from cognitively intact to severely demented and many were also frail, partially sighted, or deaf. This paper concerns reliability within and between centers, and the relationship between reliability and factors such as diagnostic criteria, dementia severity, and respondents' clinical characteristics. Within-center interrater reliability was high, more so for 'yes-no' DSM-III-R diagnoses than the multi-level CDR. Between-center rates were lower but still moderate to good. Concordance was lower for intermediate dementia levels than for no dementia and severe dementia. Physical disability made an additional contribution to uncertainty but deafness, poor vision, anxiety, and depression had no discernible effects. Reliability levels are likely to be lower in representative aged populations than in carefully selected clinical groups.