Elderly patients form the most rapidly expanding group of hemodialysis (HD) patients in Europe and the United States. There are initiatives to promote an increase in arteriovenous fistula (AVF) formation. There are concerns that elderly patients may have lower rates of surgical vascular access compared with younger patients due to risks of higher co-morbidities, surgical complications, and higher AVF nonuse rates. The aim of this study was to compare access-related survival and morbidity for dialysis catheters and AVFs and to evaluate the AVF nonuse rate in an elderly population. We have performed a retrospective analysis of access survival and morbidity in patients > or = 70 years of age, either on maintenance HD or predialysis with preemptive formation of surgical access. One hundred and forty-six patients had permanent HD access created during the 18-month study period, from 1 January 2006 to June 2007. There were 89 male and 57 female patients in whom 78 AVFs and 137 tunneled venous catheters were inserted. There was a significantly greater loss of vascular access due to infection in the catheter group compared with the AVF group (P<0.016). Access survival was also significantly prolonged in the AVF group (446 days, 95% confidence interval 405-487) compared with the catheter group (276 days, 95% confidence interval 240-313), P=0.001. The rate of nonuse of AVFs was low (16%). We conclude that an AVF is the preferred form of vascular access in elderly HD patients.