OBJECTIVE: Recent research has demonstrated that individuals with Down's syndrome (DS) develop plaques and tangles in the brain similar to people with Alzheimer's disease. As a result, they show increased dementia and decreased olfactory functioning compared to healthy individuals. The olfactory event-related potential (OERP) has been used as an objective quantitative measure of olfactory functioning in normal and clinical populations. The present study investigated the utility of the latency and amplitude of the OERP components in examining olfactory dysfunction in DS individuals. METHODS: OERPs were recorded monopolarly at the Fz, Cz and Pz electrode sites, using amyl acetate at a 60 s inter-stimulus interval, from individuals with DS (mean age 26.0 years) and age-matched normal controls. Participants were screened for nasal health and odor thresholds were assessed. Dementia was assessed using the dementia rating scale (DRS). RESULTS: Results indicate that DS subjects have significantly longer latencies in the sensory (N1, P2, and N2) and cognitive (P3) components of the OERP than normal controls. Odor threshold was significantly associated with sensory OERP components. In addition, DS subjects with a higher level of dementia showed significantly longer P3 latencies than those with lower dementia levels. CONCLUSIONS: The study suggests that the OERP may be a useful measure of olfactory dysfunction in DS which may precede developing dementia in this population.