This retrospective study involved analysis of the data of the inpatients discharged with a diagnosis of burns, from various hospitals in Scotland, during the period 1970-92. There were 51,350 such inpatients all over Scotland, with an average annual rate of 2233 cases. Overall burn incidence in actual numbers was 43.7 per cent in < 15 year olds, 41.2 per cent in 15-64 year olds and 15.1 per cent in > or = 65 year olds. Burn rates per 100,000 population were highest in < 15 year olds and lowest in 16-64 year olds. The pattern of burn admissions has changed. Since 1987 the highest numbers of burn inpatients were the 16-64 year olds, followed by children, then the elderly. There has been a gradual but sustained fall in burns admissions in all age categories. The downward trend was statistically significant (t = 8.48, 21 d.f., P < 0.001). Though the population of the elderly (> or = 65 year olds) increased by about 13 per cent, the burn admissions and all deaths due to burns did not reveal an upward trend. The population of the old (81+ year olds) increased by 60 per cent during the same period. The incidence of burns was above average when > 80 year olds were considered separately, approaching the levels found in children. However the rate and incidence of burns in the 65-80 year olds resembled that of the younger age group (16-64 year olds). The total number of deaths due to burns and/or smoke inhalation has declined in all age groups and the decline has been statistically significant (chi-squared = 19.62, 1 d.f., P < 0.001). Maximum number of deaths occurred in > or = 65 year olds (44 per cent), followed closely by 16-64 year olds (43.5 per cent), and 12.5 per cent of deaths in adolescents and children. The decline was due to improved management of burns and a decrease in the number of patients having large body surface area burns.