To determine whether age should inform our approach toward permanent vascular access placement in patients with chronic kidney disease, we conducted a retrospective cohort study among 11 290 non-dialysis patients with an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) <25 ml/min/1.73 m(2) based on 2000-2001 outpatient creatinine measurements in the Department of Veterans Affairs. For each age group, we examined the percentage of patients that had and had not received a permanent access by 1 year after cohort entry, and the percentage in each of these groups that died, started dialysis, or survived without dialysis. We also modeled the number of unnecessary procedures that would have occurred in theoretical scenarios based on existing vascular access guidelines. The mean eGFR was 17.7 ml/min/1.73 m(2) at cohort entry. Twenty-five percent (n=2870) of patients initiated dialysis within a year of cohort entry. Among these, only 39% (n=1104) had undergone surgery to place a permanent access beforehand. As compared with younger patients, older patients were less likely to undergo permanent access surgery, but also less likely to start dialysis. In all theoretical scenarios examined, older patients would have been more likely than younger patients to receive unnecessary procedures. If all patients had been referred for permanent access surgery at cohort entry, the ratio of unnecessary to necessary procedures after 2 years of follow-up would have been 5:1 for patients aged 85-100 years but only 0.5:1 for those aged 18-44 years. Currently recommended approaches to permanent access placement based on a single threshold level of renal function for patients of all ages are not appropriate.