Abstract Background Older haemodialysis patients accompany a high burden of functional impairment, limited life expectancy, and healthcare utilization. This meta-analysis aimed to evaluate how various risk factors influenced the prognosis of haemodialysis patients in late life, which might contribute to decision making by patients and care providers. Methods PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane Central were searched systematically for studies evaluating the risk factors for mortality in elderly haemodialysis patients. Twenty-eight studies were included in the present systematic review. The factors included age, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, type of vascular access, dialysis initiation time, nutritional status and geriatric impairments. Geriatric impairments included frailty, cognitive or functional impairment and falls. Relative risks with 95% confidence intervals were derived. Results Functional impairment (OR = 1.45, 95% CI: 1.20–1.75), cognitive impairment (OR = 1.46, 95% CI: 1.32–1.62) and falls (OR = 1.14, 95% CI: 1.06–1.23) were significantly and independently associated with increased mortality in elderly haemodialysis patients. Low body mass index conferred a mortality risk (OR = 1.43, 95% CI: 1.31–1.56) paralleling that of frailty as a marker of early death. The results also confirmed that the older (OR = 1.43, 95% CI: 1.22–1.68) and sicker (in terms of Charlson comorbidity index) (OR = 1.41, 95% CI: 1.35–1.50) elderly haemodialysis patients were, the more likely they were to die. In addition, increased mortality was associated with early-start dialysis (OR = 1.18, 95% CI: 1.01–1.37) and with the use of a central venous catheter (OR = 1.53, 95% CI: 1.44–1.62). Conclusions Multiple factors influence the risk of mortality in elderly patients undergoing haemodialysis. Geriatric impairment is related to poor outcome. Functional/cognitive impairment and falls in elderly dialysis patients are strongly and independently associated with mortality.