A battery of 13 visual, vestibular, sensorimotor, and balance tests was administered to 95 elderly persons (mean age 82.7 years) to examine the relationships between specific sensorimotor functions and measures of postural stability. When subjects stood on a firm surface, increased body sway was associated with poor tactile sensitivity and poor joint position sense. When subjects stood on a compliant surface (which reduced peripheral sensation) with their eyes open, increased body sway was associated with poor visual acuity and contrast sensitivity, reduced vibration sense, and decreased ankle dorsiflexion strength as well as reduced joint position sense. Increased body sway with eyes closed on the compliant surface was associated with poor tactile sensation, reduced quadriceps and ankle dorsiflexion strength, and increased reaction time. Poor performance in two clinical measures of postural stability was associated with reduced sensation in the lower limbs as measured by joint position sense, tactile sensitivity and vibration sense, reduced quadriceps and ankle dorsiflexion strength, and slow reaction times. The prevalence of vestibular impairments was high in this group, but vestibular function was not significantly associated with sway under any of the test conditions. The results suggest that reduced sensation, muscle weakness in the legs, and increased reaction time are all important factors associated with postural instability. An analysis of the percentage increases in sway under conditions where visual and peripheral sensation systems are removed or diminished, compared with sway under optimal conditions, indicated that peripheral sensation is the most important sensory system in the maintenance of static postural stability.