Treatment of the elderly will comprise increasingly higher proportions of practice time in the future, and issues regarding this treatment are more salient now than ever before. Because more elders are seeking treatment, surgeons need to be comfortable with assessing the potential risks associated with surgical procedures in their elderly patients, many of whom have multiple chronic diseases. Risks that need to be considered are those physiologic changes normal for aging, pathologic changes due to disease, and psychosocial changes that may occur with aging. This article assesses the contribution each of these changes makes to surgical risk, and discusses the principles of gerontology and geriatric medicine that are relevant to risk assessment. © 1990.