5 things to know about organ donation after 50
“The good news is that anyone over 50 can donate,” says Candy Wells, director of organ utilization at LifeCenter Northwest, a government-designated nonprofit organ procurement organization. federal for Alaska, Montana, northern Idaho and Washington. “As the need continues to grow for life-saving transplants, we continue to partner with transplant programs to explore what is possible. With all donors, including elderly donors, we explore the organic function of each organ, and if there is a possibility of saving even one life, we move forward.
3. Organ recipients are most often 50 years and older.
The United States provided more than 4,1000 organs for transplant in 2021. And as in recent years, about 62% of organs were donated to people 50 and older.
In midlife, lifestyle and health issues combine to damage organs. In 2021, about 37% of organ transplants in people aged 50 and over involved type 2 diabetes.
Normal wear and tear also leads to a decline in organ function after half a century. Obesity, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease can lead to organ failure. Sometimes the only hope is a transplant.
4. Research particularly needs donors aged 50 and over.
“Every part of the body has a researcher waiting to learn from it,” says Gina Dunne Smith, executive director of the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine. “The majority of our researchers seek organs and tissue from donors aged 50 through 70 and 80. We obtain approximately 1,500 research organs per year. We recently received donations from an 82-year-old man whose family said yes to organ donation and transplantation.
Even when organs can’t be transplanted, they can provide researchers with something rare: human tissue to learn about disorders and diseases that can affect anyone. “Each donation takes a step towards treating, improving or curing a patient,” notes Smith. “We have a pancreas researcher saying, ‘Research organ donors are heroes in the afterlife in a way they could never know.'”
5. Donating a kidney is not without risks.
Living organ donation is in the news almost every week. In 2020, 5,730 people donated a kidney or part of their liver to someone in need of a transplant to survive. Of these donors, about 35% were over 50 years old; 96% donated a kidney.
Although the recipient benefits from a positive result and an improved quality of life, potential living donors should consider their risks. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), donors may recover longer than their recipients; chronic pain; a 25-35% loss of function in their remaining kidney; or protein in their urine, a possible sign of diabetes. About one in five donors will develop high blood pressure.
There may also be financial risks: travel, accommodation and meal costs, as well as lost wages due to time off for tests, surgery and convalescence. Some donors may have difficulty obtaining life, disability or health insurance. Insurance companies may charge higher premiums after donation.
How can seniors support organ donation?
Nearly 106,000 people are waiting for a transplant; a name is added to the waiting list every nine minutes. Not everyone can be an organ donor, even if they register, but registration is the first big step. To ensure you have first-person approval, register with your state or add “organ donor” to your next driver’s license renewal.
Suzanne Ball, RN, is a writer who has worked in the field of organ and tissue donation and transplantation for 25 years. She is a freelance writer specializing in medical and health topics.