Increasing age is associated with a decreasing ability to mediate effective immune responses to newly encountered antigens. It is generally believed that this reflects the age-associated decline in the number, repertoire and function of available naive T cells. Here, we propose that naive T cells become increasingly irrelevant to the immune system, and that responses to newly encountered antigens are progressively dominated by cross-reactive memory T cells as the individual ages. In addition, we propose that the majority, if not all, of the response to newly encountered antigens in the elderly is mediated by cross-reactive memory T cells. This predicts highly stochastic responses to new infections that should vary between individuals, and has important implications for vaccination strategies in the elderly.