This study reviews 594 admissions of 434 patients aged 80 years or more to the departments of general surgery in Ringkobing County, Denmark, during one year. Half of the patients were admitted as emergencies, and 60% underwent surgery. The overall mortality was 9%, the postoperative mortality 8%. The number of postoperative complications and the postoperative mortality rate increased in emergency cases and in patients with complicating medical diseases. 72% of all admissions were uncomplicated and 69% of the patients were discharged directly home. Generally, these patients do not block beds, but are discharged as soon as medical care is no longer indicated. During this decade it is expected that the number of admissions of patients aged 80 years or older will increase by about 25%, and unless additional resources are provided, new standards must be considered for the distribution of resources and of indications for surgery in both young and old. Also, the development of less traumatic methods of operative surgery with lower morbidity rates, earlier recovery and reduced hospital stay must be encouraged.