Although there is considerable variation in the effect of age on drug biotransformation, the metabolism of many drugs is impaired in the elderly. Age-related physiological changes, such as a reduction in liver mass, hepatic metabolising enzyme activity, liver blood flow and alterations in plasma drug binding may account for the decreased elimination of some metabolised drugs in the elderly. It is difficult, however, to separate an effect of aging from a background of marked variation in the rate of metabolism due to factors such as individual metabolic phenotype, environmental influences, concomitant disease states and drug intake. The prevailing data suggest that initial doses of metabolised drugs should be reduced in older patients and then modified according to the clinical response. In most studies the elderly appear as responsive as young individuals to the effects of compounds which induce or inhibit the activity of cytochrome P450 isozymes. Concurrent use of other agents, which induce or inhibit drug metabolism, mandates dose adjustment as in younger patients. Many questions remain unanswered. For instance, limitations of in vitro studies prevent any firm conclusion about changes in hepatic drug metabolising enzyme activity in the elderly. With aging, some pathways of drug metabolism may be selectively affected, but this has not been adequately scrutinised. The possibility that metabolism of stereoisomers may be altered in the elderly has not been adequately tested. The effect of aging on the distribution of polymorphic drug metabolism phenotypes is still not established, despite potential implications for disease susceptibility and survival advantage.