Don’t Let Age Keep You from Being an Organ Donor
April is National Donate Life Month. In our last blog post, we discussed the importance of planning ahead to help ensure your end-of-life medical wishes are honored. Part of making end-of-life decisions includes whether or not to be an organ donor. While this is a very personal decision, 95 percent of American adults support organ donation. However, only 48 percent have signed up to be a donor. And donors are desperately needed.
In 2015, there were 30,970 transplants performed in the United States. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to keep up with demand. Currently, there are nearly 120,000 people on the national transplant waiting list and another person is added every 10 minutes. Twenty-two people die each day waiting for a transplant.
Many older Americans don’t sign up to be an organ donor because they feel they are too old – they feel their organs have been through too much to help anybody. But there is no age limit for organ donation. People of all ages can – and do – become organ donors. To date, the oldest organ donor on record was 92 years old. He donated his liver and saved the life of a 68-year-old woman.
Organs donated by the elderly actually have a very good track record of helping people live longer and healthier lives. A study conducted at the University of Torino in Italy found that survival rates among patients receiving a donated kidney from an older donor were similar, whether the donors were in their 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s. Kidney transplants are by far the most commonly performed procedure, accounting for more than 50 percent of all transplants. Eighty-one percent of the people waiting for organs are waiting for a kidney. And while studies have shown that kidneys from older donors (those over 55) do not last as long as those from younger people, a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology concluded that for older patients in need of a kidney transplant, rapid transplantation from an older deceased donor provides better outcomes than a delayed transplantation from a younger donor. In other words, a kidney from someone older can help extend and improve the lives of people who need a kidney transplant.
What about other organs? A study published in the Archives of Surgery found no differences in patients who received a liver transplant from donors aged 60 and older compared to those from younger donors. In cornea transplants, older donors also fare very well. A study from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that corneas from older donors were just as successful after five years as those from younger donors.
Unfortunately, of the 9,079 deceased organ donors in 2015, only 618 (or less than seven percent) were 65 or older. Part of this has to do with older Americans who feel their organs aren’t viable. Part may also be due to individual transplantation programs that do impose age caps because of the usually mistaken notion that older tissue won’t last as long. But thanks to the research being done, many healthcare professionals are now calling for expansions in donor pools, particularly when it comes to age.
If organ donation is something that appeals to you, don’t let age stand in the way of participating. Your organs could save a life. To learn more, visit organdonor.gov.