We detected and mapped a dynamically spreading wave of gray matter loss in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). The loss pattern was visualized in four dimensions as it spread over time from temporal and limbic cortices into frontal and occipital brain regions, sparing sensorimotor cortices. The shifting deficits were asymmetric (left hemisphere >right hemisphere) and correlated with progressively declining cognitive status ( p 15% loss). The maps distinguished different phases of AD and differentiated AD from normal aging. Local gray matter loss rates (5.3 +/- 2.3% per year in AD v 0.9 +/- 0.9% per year in controls) were faster in the left hemisphere ( p < 0.029) than the right. Transient barriers to disease progression appeared at limbic/frontal boundaries. This degenerative sequence, observed in vivo as it developed, provides the first quantitative, dynamic visualization of cortical atrophic rates in normal elderly populations and in those with dementia.