Elderly patients suffer from a wide range of chronic disabling diseases and social problems. These conditions often lead to increased lengths of hospital stay for acute medical and surgical problems--"bed-blocking". By means of a one-day census of all inpatients at Chulalongkorn Thai Red Cross Hospital the number and reasons for continued hospital stay of all patients, classified by age (less than 60, and 60+ years), were measured. Of 191 medical inpatients surveyed, 34 per cent were 60 years and over. More older than younger patients were still in hospital for non-medical reasons (35% vs 21%, Chi-square = 4.89, p < 0.01). Durations of hospital stay were longer for older patients: median stay 8 and 11 days respectively for those less than 60 and those 60+ years. Early discharge of disabled elderly people to their families was achieved by vigorous social work, thus reducing the extent to which elderly patients become bed-blockers. Further demographic trends, coupled with a breakdown of the extended family structure, will make bed-blocking a very likely problem. The present patterns of care may lead to poor long-term outcomes for the elderly.