BACKGROUND: Preoxygenation with tidal volume breathing for 3 min is commonly used technique. An end tidal expiratory oxygen concentration greater than 90% is considerd to be adequate for preoxygenation. The aim of this study was to check the effects of preoxygenation on elderly patients through the comparison with young patients during the 3 min tidal volume breathing technique. METHODS: Sixty patients from ASA class I or II who were scheduled for elective orthopedic general surgery were divided into an elderly (>65 yr) group and a control (25-65 yr) group. Patients were instructed in the technique of preoxygenation. Preoxygenation was accomplished with an appropriately sized face mask connected to an anesthesia machine with 100% oxygen during 3 min with patients in both groups. Expired O2, CO2 concentration and oxygen saturation were recorded simultaneously for 3 min. RESULTS: The elderly group showed significantly lower end tidal oxygen concentration than the control group from 50 sec to the end of study (180 sec) with the 3 min tidal volume breathing technique (P < 0.05). In 180 sec, the control group had over 90% (91.5%) end tidal oxygen concentration, but in the elderly group end tidal oxygen concentration could not reach 90% (86.2%). In oxygen saturation, the elderly group showed a significantly lower level until 40 sec from the start of study, and then two groups showed a similar levels of oxygen saturation until the end of study. CONCLUSIONS: End tidal oxygen concentration did not reach 90% in 180 sec in the elderly group during preoxygenation with the 3 min tidal volume breathing technique.