A cross-sectional survey of bowel habit has been carried out on 201 elderly patients living at home. Although symptoms of constipation were common, reported bowel frequency was similar to younger people. Constipation was most clearly associated with poor mobility and depression. Digital rectal examination was generally unreliable as an indicator of constipation. Using the abdominal radiograph as the final arbiter, true constipation was present in less than half of those complaining of constipation.