A prospective study of community acquired lower respiratory tract infection in the elderly was carried out over a 15-month period. During this time 127 consecutive admissions to two acute geriatric medical wards were studied. An aetiology was established in 77 (61%) of cases. Streptococcus pneumoniae was identified in 37% of patients. Haemophilus influenzae in 18% and Branhamella catarrhalis in 10%. Infection with Mycoplasma pneumoniae was found in only one episode and no cases of Legionella pneumophilia were diagnosed. A significant number of patients had multiple bacterial pathogens isolated: 18% of all bacterial pathogens isolated were ampicillin resistant. Fourteen patients died (11%). Lower respiratory tract infection is a frequent cause of hospital admission for those aged over 65 and is often regarded as a preterminal event. Adequately treated however, mortality is no higher than in the general population. Knowledge of the likely pathogens allows early and appropriate antibiotic therapy for these patients whether at home or on admission to hospital.