BACKGROUND: Few data exist on adverse drug reactions (ADR) in elderly people. In this group, pharmacotherapy represents a challenge with regard to comorbidities, drug interactions and compliance. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this article is to highlight the characteristics of ADR in elderly patients. METHODS: In addition to a literature review we present the first data from the Leipzig Research Center for Civilization Diseases (LIFE). Between 2011 and 2015 a total of 9537 subjects aged 40-79 years were randomly included in this population-based, age and sex standardized investigation in the inhabitants of Leipzig, Germany and special emphasis was placed on allergies including questions with regard to ADR. RESULTS: Of the 9537 subjects, data on allergies were available from 8979 subjects. Female gender, comorbidities and the use of multiple drugs were significantly associated with an increased risk of ADR. Women also reported ADR significantly more frequently than men. Of the subjects 22% reported suffering from some form of ADR as a result of medications, while in 2.3% this reaction had occurred within the previous 12 months. Less than 15% of LIFE patients with ADR were in possession of a document giving details of the ADR. DISCUSSION: The occurrence of ADR significantly contributes to morbidity in elderly patients. For prevention of ADR knowledge of patient-related factors, underlying diseases, drug characteristics and drug interactions are necessary.