Higher levels of cortisol have been observed in persons with cognitive decline and dementia. It is unknown whether these higher levels are a cause or a consequence of disease. We investigated whether morning levels of serum cortisol were associated with cognitive function, cognitive decline, and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in the Rotterdam Study, a large prospective population based cohort study. Cortisol levels were assessed in fasting blood serum in 3341 participants, who were free of dementia at baseline (1997-1999). Cognitive function was assessed with a dedicated neuropsychological test battery at baseline and at follow-up examination (2002-2004). In addition, the cohort was continuously monitored for incident dementia until January 1, 2007. After a mean follow-up of 7.1 years, 243 participants had developed dementia, of whom 210 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Morning serum levels of cortisol were neither related to cognitive function at baseline, nor to annual cognitive decline. There was no relation between serum levels of cortisol and the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. These results suggest that that morning serum cortisol is not a causal factor in the development of dementia.