The number of geriatric patients admitted to the accident and emergency department is growing. These patients also present increasing functional dependence and a large panel of associated diseases and associated problems. For the purpose of describing this phenomenon, we prospectively studied the epidemiology of patients 75 years and older entering the emergency department of a university hospital localized in a rural area. From January 1996 up to January 1997, 1298 patients aged 75 years or older were admitted to the emergency department. This age group represented 12.3% of all the patients admitted during the period. The gender distribution was almost equal: 56% were female and 44% male. Most of them (75%) were referred by their general practitioner although 15% came spontaneously. The most common complaints were, in decreasing order: general condition impairment (21.5%), dyspnoea (15%), falls and traumas (15%), abdominal problems (13%), thoracic pain (9%), syncope, dizziness (7%) and stroke (5.5%). Hospitalization was necessary in 69% of cases. Among the patients coming spontaneously a larger proportion (55%) were sent back home compared with only 25% of those referred by their general practitioner.