BACKGROUND Information about medical and social situation of elders is limited in Chile. AIM To assess the functional risk of Chilean elders using an instrument validated in Canada. SUBJECTS AND METHODS As part of a project aimed to help poor elders, 2,116 subjects living in Santiago, aged 65 to 99 years old (1,334 female, and 625 older than 75 years old), were interviewed. RESULTS Thirty percent of these elders were using more than three medications and 13% lived alone. Visual problems were detected in 75%, memory problems were found in 62%, 63% felt depressed, 46% had hearing problems, 42% suffered a fall during the last year, 35% had a health problem that forced them to stay at home, 32% did not count with help in a case of need, 33% referred some type of nutritional problem, 26% needed help for daily living activities and 25% considered to have a worst health than counterparts of the same age. Among subjects older than 75 years old, the frequency of memory problems, auditory impairment, number of falls, health problems that precluded leaving the house, limitation for daily activities and the use of walking aids, was significantly higher. Although men and women had similar ages, men were in worst functional conditions, and had required more admissions to hospitals. There was a higher proportion of women living alone. Females also had a higher frequency of depression, memory disturbances, falls and use of more than three medications. CONCLUSIONS Women elders tend to be in better functional conditions than men and people older than 75 years old have a higher functional risk. The applied instrument allowed a better focalization of our geriatric program.