Early diagnosis of dementia can be difficult. Quantitative EEG (qEEG) in combination with cognitive tasks shows promise for improving diagnostic accuracy. The study of task induced qEEG changes in normal ageing is a prerequisite for differentiating these changes from those which are specific to dementia. Sixteen young adults (mean age 28.8+/-5.6 years) and 16 healthy cognitively normal older subjects (mean age 73.4+/-7.9 years) participated in the study. EEG recordings were made while subjects were in a relaxed (or resting) state, and also while they performed arithmetic and language tasks. From the resting to the arithmetic conditions, there was decreased alpha activity and increased delta and beta-3 activity for both subject groups. Changes in alpha and delta activity were found in almost all sites and could be associated with arousal. Increase in beta-3 activity was focal, appearing only in the posterior region of the brain and it could be assumed that this area is highly involved in arithmetic processes. In the young adult group, theta activity increased from the resting to the arithmetic conditions, while in the older group theta activity changes were in the opposite direction. From the resting to the language condition, there was increased delta activity and decreased alpha and beta-1 activity for both subject groups. Changes in alpha and delta activity were again found in almost all sites. The decrease in beta-1 activity was found in only four sites, but these were not specific to a region of the brain known to be involved in language processing. This consistency in qEEG changes during cognitive tasks suggests that the method can be applied to the investigation of cognitive deficits associated with a number of neurological syndromes.