OBJECTIVES Metabolic syndrome (Met.S) is a risk factor for stroke, dementia, and ischemic heart disease (IHD). It is unclear whether Met.S is an independent risk factor for functional dependence, depression, cognitive impairment, and low health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in a population free of clinical stroke. DESIGN Cross-sectional. SETTING Two communities in southern Brazil. PARTICIPANTS Four hundred twenty people aged 60 and older. MEASUREMENTS An adapted (body mass index > or =30 kg/m(2) and blood pressure > or =140/90) Adult Treatment Panel III definition was used in diagnosing Met.S. Depression (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Revised) and Mini-Mental State Examination were evaluated along with activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). HRQoL was measured using a visual analogue scale (0-10). All values were adjusted for age, sex, and presence of IHD. RESULTS Forty (9.5%) subjects had a stroke and were excluded from the final analysis. Met.S was present in 37.4% of the stroke-free population. Met.S was significantly and independently associated with 2.24 times as much ADL dependence, 2.39 times as much IADL dependence, a 2.12 times higher risk of depression, a 2.27 times higher likelihood of cognitive impairment, and a 1.62 times higher chance of low self-perceived HRQoL (all P<0.05). Adjustment for its own components reduced the strength of the above associations but did not eliminate their statistical significance. If Met.S were removed from this population, dependence, depression, cognitive impairment, and low QoL would be reduced 15.0% to 21.4%. CONCLUSION Met.S was significantly associated with functional dependence, depression, cognitive impairment, and low HRQoL, and its effects were independent of clinical stroke, IHD, and its own individual components.