Stroke mostly occurs in elderly people and patient outcomes after stroke are highly influenced by age. A better understanding of the causes of stroke in the elderly might have important practical implications not only for clinical management, but also for preventive strategies and future health-care policies. In this Review, we explore the evidence from both human and animal studies relating to the effect of old agein terms of susceptibility, patient outcomes and response to treatmenton ischemic stroke. Several aging-related changes in the brain have been identified that are associated with an increase in vulnerability to ischemic stroke in the elderly. Furthermore, risk factor profiles for stroke and mechanisms of ischemic injury differ between young and elderly patients. Elderly patients with ischemic stroke often receive less-effective treatment and have poorer outcomes than younger individuals who develop this condition. Neuroprotective agents for ischemic stroke have been sought for decades but none has proved effective in humans. One contributing factor for this translational failure is that most preclinical studies have used young animals. Future research on ischemic stroke should consider age as a factor that influences stroke prevention and treatment, and should focus on the management of acute stroke in the elderly to reduce the incidence and improve outcomes in this vulnerable group.