CONTEXT: multiple studies of elderly patients show that the prevalence of chronic renal failure in people aged 65 years and older is dependent on the method used to calculate the glomerular filtration rate. We performed a systematic literature search with research question: What is the best method that could be applicable in clinical practice for evaluating renal function in the elderly? Studies using inulin, Cr-51-EDTA, Tc-DTPA or iohexol assays as the gold standard were included. METHODS: we searched the PubMed and EMBASE databases. Articles found were screened first by title and abstract and then by five criteria. Retained articles were scored using an adapted version of QUADAS. RESULTS: twelve articles had an identified population or subpopulation aged 65 years and older. The studies were heterogeneous with regard to the population investigated and the statistical procedures used to compare the methods and equations with the gold standard. The Cockcroft-Gault (CG) and MDRD equations and the serum cystatin C concentration produced the highest correlations with the gold standard. CONCLUSIONS: no accurate method to evaluate renal function in the elderly was found. Serum cystatin C concentration and the CG and MDRD formula might be valuable parameters, although there is insufficient evidence.