Postoperative delirium and cognitive dysfunction (POCD) are topics of special importance in the geriatric surgical population. They are separate entities, whose relationship has yet to be fully elucidated. Although not limited to geriatric patients, the incidence and impact of both are more profound in geriatric patients. Delirium has been shown to be associated with longer and more costly hospital course and higher likelihood of death within 6 months or postoperative institutionalization. POCD has been associated with increased mortality, risk of leaving the labour market prematurely, and dependency on social transfer payments. Here, we review their definitions and aetiology, and discuss treatment and prevention in elderly patients undergoing major non-cardiac surgery. Good basic care demands identification of at-risk patients, awareness of common perioperative aggravating factors, simple prevention interventions, recognition of the disease states, and basic treatments for patients with severe hyperactive manifestations.