The world population is rapidly growing and ageing at a pace that is projected to continue for at least three decades. This shift towards an older populace has invariably increased the number of individuals with diseases related to ageing, such as chronic kidney disease. The increase in chronic kidney disease is associated with a growing number of elderly patients receiving kidney transplants. Understanding how the immune system changes with increasing age will help to define the risks of rejection and infection in the elderly population and will focus attention on the need for individualized immunosuppression for patients in this age group. This Review addresses what is currently known about ageing and the immune system, highlighting age-related changes that affect the outcome of transplantation in elderly individuals. The need for new strategies to improve outcomes in this growing population of elderly renal transplant recipients is also emphasized.