BACKGROUND: Various inter-dependent factors influence serum biochemical values. In the elderly, the impact of these factors may differ compared with younger age groups and therefore population-based studies among older people are needed. The specific morbidity in old age, including also various types of drug therapy, should be observed. METHODS: Various biochemical tests in 349 females and 186 males over 81 years of age were carried out and the associations of biochemical values with morbidity, drug therapy, anthropometry and gender were estimated. RESULTS: Biochemical serum values deviate in various diseases, characterized by increased frequency in the elderly, i.e. congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, hip fractures, depression and dementia. All of these diseases present a tendency to increased homocysteine, usually combined with low folate. Cases with intact cognitive function throughout the six years after sampling are characterized by low homocysteine, which is the opposite of what is found in dementia. Furthermore, congestive heart failure is associated with impaired creatinine clearance and increased urea and urate, and osteoporosis and hip fractures are characterized by low albumin and cholesterol. Increased values for urate and impaired creatinine clearance are found in coronary diseases. In gout, multiple biochemical changes take place. For cases with a history of diabetes, arterial hypertension, peptic ulcer and malignancy, few changes are found compared with the values of the total sample. Furosemide therapy is associated with the same pattern as congestive heart failure, and laxative treatment is characterized by low folate and high homocysteine values.