The elderly constitute an increasing portion of the world's population. Our study assessed morbidity, mortality, and outcome in octogenarians who have undergone lower intestinal operations, and compared outcome between subsequent decades. A total of 138 octogenarians who underwent 157 operations were retrospectively studied (1995-2005). The American Society of Anesthesiologists Physical Status classification, blood loss, length of surgery, surgical intensive care unit admission, length of surgical intensive care unit and hospital stay, and complications were recorded. Emergency vs. elective and cancer vs. noncancer cases were compared. Results were compared for the years 1985 to 1994. Cancer comprised 63 percent of cases. The most common causes of mortality were sepsis and multiorgan failure. Differences (P < 0.05) were found for elective vs. emergent surgeries according to age, length of stay, complications, surgical intensive care unit admission, American Society of Anesthesiologists Physical Status classification, and mortality. Noncancer cases were more likely to be emergent, have a higher American Society of Anesthesiologists Physical Status classification, and a higher mortality rate. When emergency operations were excluded, there were no significant differences between cancer vs. noncancer cases. In a comparison of two decades (1985-1994 vs. 1995-2005), we found that the mortality rate in patients younger than aged 85 years decreased by more than 10 percent (P < 0.05). Patients older than aged 85 years demonstrated no significant differences between decades. The strongest determinants of outcome are emergency status and the presence of comorbid conditions. Elective surgery in the elderly is safe. Emergency surgery is accompanied by significant morbidity and mortality.