Hospitalized geriatric patients (N = 354) from an iodine-deficient area were screened with sensitive thyrotropin (TSH), free and total thyroxine (FT4, T4) and total triiodothyronine (T3) to determine the occurrence rate of clinical and subclinical thyroid dysfunction. The diagnostic value of the tests was compared to each other and to that of the thyrotropin-releasing-hormone test (TRH-test) in order to find the optimal first line screening test in geriatric patients. Clinical hyperthyroidism was found in 13, subclinical hyperthyroidism in 10, overt hypothyroidism in 6 and subclinical hypothyroidism in 8 cases. 20.6% of the patients were euthyroid but had subnormal TSH response to TRH, as a sign of possible thyroid autonomy. The low occurrence rate of clinical thyroid disorders (4.8%) does not justify the screening of geriatric patients in general, but the high probability of thyroid autonomy makes reasonable the investigation of every geriatric patient before iodine administration. Suppressed basal TSH and high FT4 were found to be both sensitive and specific in diagnosing clinical hyperthyroidism, but the predictive value was insufficient; elevated T4 and T3 are specific, but not sensitive. Basal TSH is sensitive, specific and has a good predictive value in diagnosing euthyroidism, whereas normal T4, FT4 or T3 are not specific enough for euthyroidism. Basal TSH is better as a first line test of thyroid function than FT4. A normal basal TSH confirms euthyroidism by itself. Other tests (TRH test, T4, FT4, T3) are necessary to elucidate the clinical importance of a subnormal or suppressed basal TSH.