While it is widely appreciated that volumetric blood flow rate (VFR) dynamics change with age, there has been no detailed characterization of the typical shape of carotid bifurcation VFR waveforms of older adults. Toward this end, retrospectively gated phase contrast magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure time-resolved VFR waveforms proximal and distal to the carotid bifurcations of 94 older adults (age 68 +/- 8 years) with little or no carotid artery disease, recruited from the BLSA cohort of the VALIDATE study of factors in vascular aging. Timings and amplitudes of well-defined feature points from these waveforms were extracted automatically and averaged to produce representative common, internal and external carotid artery (CCA, ICA and ECA) waveform shapes. Relative to young adults, waveforms from older adults were found to exhibit a significantly augmented secondary peak during late systole, resulting in significantly higher resistance index (RI) and flow augmentation index (FAI). Cycle-averaged VFR at the CCA, ICA and ECA were 389 +/- 74, 245 +/- 61 and 125 +/- 49 mL min(-1), respectively, reflecting a significant cycle-averaged outflow deficit of 5%, which peaked at around 10% during systole. A small but significant mean delay of 13 ms between arrivals of ICA versus CCA/ECA peak VFR suggested differential compliance of these vessels. Sex and age differences in waveform shape were also noted. The characteristic waveforms presented here may serve as a convenient baseline for studies of VFR waveform dynamics or as suitable boundary conditions for models of blood flow in the carotid arteries of older adults.