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One hundred consecutive patients admitted to an acute geriatric unit were examined for evidence of peripheral arthritis with recognised criteria used to define osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, pyrophosphate arthropathy, gout, and disorders of the shoulder joint. The presence of arthritis and its severity were related both to functional independence and to a recognition by the patient that joint problems were impairing independence. Seventy six patients had clinical peripheral arthritis; 48 had arthritis contributing to loss of function, and 19 of these did not volunteer evidence of their joint disease. The common occurrence of arthritic conditions in the elderly, with consequential disability and dependency, suggests that increased medical awareness may be required to prevent unnecessary morbidity. Our findings need confirmation in community based studies.