The current worldwide explosive increase in the numbers of older persons is unprecedented in history. In the 1990s and beyond, the preponderance of patients with cardiovascular illness will be elderly, with a substantial subset among the frail elderly, 85 years old and older. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death and disability in this population, and cardiovascular risk increases steadily with age. Pascal defined old age as "just a time that is farther from the beginning and nearer to the end." Elderly persons, with and without cardiovascular disease, vary widely in their physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional functioning; severity of illness; and expectations from medical care. The challenge to the clinical and research communities alike is to delineate the appropriate components of preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic care for elderly cardiac patients in our society, interventions that are likely to relieve suffering, restore function so as to limit disability and dependency, and maintain a dignified and meaningful life-style for the end years of life. Major societal strides have been made in redefining both the onset of old age and its limitations. The eighteenth century poet, Robert Burns, wrote of his fears that he would be 45 years old at a time when life expectancy was 40 years; he saw himself as being weary, wrinkled, creeping, and joyless. For, ance that five-and-forty's speel'd, See crasy, weary, joyless Eild, Wi' wrinkled face, Comes hostin', hirplin', owre the field, Wi' creepin' pace. Burns died at the age of 37 years. A more attractive option is offered by Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1907-1972. According to all the standards we employ ... the aged person is condemned as inferior. ... Conditioned to operating as a machine for making and spending money, with all other relationships dependent upon its efficiency, the moment the machine is out of order and beyond repair, one begins to feel like a ghost without a sense of reality. ... Regarding himself as a person who has outlived his usefulness, he feels as if he has to apologize for being alive. May I suggest that ... old age be regarded not as the age of stagnation but as the age of opportunities for inner growth. ... The years of old age ... are indeed formative years, rich in possibilities to unlearn the follies of a lifetime, to see through inbred deceptions, to deepen understanding and compassion, to widen the horizon of honesty, to refine the sense of fairness.