We compared the effects of graded elastic loads on respiratory sensations in 19 healthy subjects greater than 60 yr of age to 21 healthy subjects less than 30 yr old. The magnitude of the respiratory sensation was quantitated by two well-established psychophysical techniques. In the magnitude-estimation method, subjects indicated the intensity of the sensation experienced with numbers; in the cross-modality method, the level of sensation was signaled with a dynamometer activated by thumb pressure. In addition, the effects of nonrespiratory stimuli were compared in the two groups. With both methods, the logarithm of the response to elastic loads was linearly related to the logarithms of the stimulus. The slope of the line relating the log of the response to the log of the stimulus (beta) was significantly greater in the younger group than in the older group using the magnitude-estimation method but not with the cross-modality matching test. There were no differences in the ability of the two groups to assign numbers to line length. However, the older group had a lower beta for magnitude estimation of thumb force than the younger group. The results suggest 1) that respiratory sensation follows Steven's law and grows exponentially with the stimulus; 2) that the growth of sensations produced by elastic loading is less in older than in younger individuals; and 3) differences in the perception of the mode used for matching in the cross-modality test may obscure significant differences in the sensations elicited by respiratory stimuli.