An uncued recall technique was used to compare recall of autobiographical events by two groups of elderly volunteers of equivalent general intelligence (assessed by unadjusted scores on the AH4 intelligence test). One group lived in residential care, and the other led independent lives. Residential care subjects recalled and spontaneously rehearsed more memories from their early than their recent lives, whereas the reverse was true for the independent elderly. The effects of senile confusional states were also investigated by testing a subgroup of cognitively impaired subjects, also in residential care. Although unimpaired elderly in care produced more early than recent memories, they were still able to produce substantial numbers of recent memories. Impaired subjects produced very few memories, those they did produce were mainly early ones. Frequency of rehearsal (or reminiscence) seemed to affect the probability of elicitation of a memory. People in institutions more often rehearse memories of early events. Frequency of rehearsal is thus a function of the use which people in different situations make of their memories. Cognitive impairment due to organic neurological changes in the elderly had a characteristic effect on the abundance of recall from recent life.