Data from a two-wave longitudinal study of an elderly community sample were used to assess whether cognitive complaints either predict subsequent cognitive decline or reflect past cognitive decline. Cognitive complaints and cognitive functioning were assessed on two occasions three and a half years apart. Cognitive complaints at Wave 1 were found not to predict future cognitive change on the Mini-Mental State Examination, an episodic memory test or a test of mental speed. Similarly, cognitive complaints at Wave 2 were unrelated to past cognitive changes on these tests after statistically controlling for the effects of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, cognitive complaints did not predict either mortality (after controlling for anxiety and depression) or future dementia. These results are evidence against the inclusion of cognitive complaints in diagnostic criteria for proposed disorders such as age-associated memory impairment, mild cognitive disorder and ageing-associated cognitive decline.