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To outline perioperative risk factors for postoperative mortality in older patients, the relationship of these factors with long-term mortality, and to examine possible strategies to reduce mortality.For patients aged 70 years and over 30-day mortality is about 6%, whereas 20% are likely to have at least one complication during their hospital stay. The mortality risk increases by 10% for every year after age 70. Mortality is also strongly associated with preoperative status and postoperative complications, particularly systemic inflammation and renal impairment. Unplanned postoperative intensive care unit admission is an important predictor for mortality. Requirement for postoperative vasopressors or inotropes is associated with 50% mortality in patients aged 80 years or more. Early postoperative complications are likely to be associated with an increased long-term (a year or more later) mortality. Strategies such as critical care outreach may decrease both 30-day and long-term mortality.Strategies are needed to prevent, or at least adequately manage, complications in elderly patients. Agreed international definitions for risks and complications can help in assessing risks and benefits.