Data from a representative national household survey were used to examine 10-year trends (1998-2008) in health conditions of Brazilian elderly. A random sample of 105,254 individuals aged > 60 years participated. The mean age was 69 years and 56% were women. There was a gradual increase in the prevalence of good or excellent self-rated health (39.3%, 43.5% and 45.0%, in 1998, 2003 and 2008, respectively) and a decrease in self-reported arthritis, heart disease, and depression. The prevalence of self-reported hypertension (43.9%, 48.8%, and 53.3%, respectively) and diabetes (10.3%, 13.0% and 16.1% respectively) increased sharply. The prevalence of inability to perform activities of daily living (eating, bathing or using the toilet) remained stable (6.5%, 6.4% and 6.9%, respectively). The achievement of three or more physician visits over the previous 12 months increased by 21% from 1998 to 2008. Hospitalization decreased by 10% in the corresponding period. The above mentioned trends persisted after adjustments for age and sex. The results showed improvements in some health dimensions of the elderly, but not all. Changes in the use of health services occurred as expected with the expansion of primary healthcare activities in Brazil.