Elderly patients pose unique challenges perioperatively. They are more likely than younger surgical patients to be mentally and physically compromised at baseline, which increases the risk of delirium and postoperative cognitive dysfunction. Postoperative cognitive risk can be predicted, however, and effective strategies exist to reduce this risk. Elderly patients are also at increased risk of a precipitous postoperative decline in physiologic reserve, which can lead to organ failure. General recommendations for the perioperative care of elderly patients include avoiding drugs that raise the risk of delirium, ensuring adequate caloric and fluid intake, getting the patient out of bed and into physical therapy as soon as possible, and early planning for discharge. An elderly patient's postoperative cognitive risk and its impact on quality of life should be factored into the decision whether to undergo surgery. Family conferences are recommended to address the many questions and challenges that surgery in an elderly person can pose.