I can assure you that organs donated by seniors are being transplanted successfully. In fact, an investigation from Italy published in December 2016 reported that a kidney from a deceased 79-year-old proved as effective as one from a deceased 50-year-old. Researchers at the University of Turin looked at 647 kidney transplants that took place from 2003 to 2013 and classified them by the age of the donors. The recipients were at most seven years older or younger than the donors, who were in their 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s.
After an average of five years of follow-up, there wasn’t a significant difference between the usable donor kidneys and the long-term outcome for recipients in their 50s, 60s and 70s. (About 18 percent of the donated kidneys had to be discarded.) The 5-year survival for those who received transplants was just shy of 88 percent during the follow-up period.
Although no formal age limits have been placed on organ donations, the Italian research was designed to see how long kidneys transplanted from older deceased donors are likely to hold up. Older donor age is a common reason for refusing a kidney, but because of the ongoing shortage of organs for transplant, this is changing. As things now stand, of the more than 122,000 people awaiting transplants in the U.S. nearly 82 percent need a kidney. In 2015, 30,970 organs were donated in this country.
Ideally, kidneys from seniors would go to people in the same age range. If you’re in your 20s or 30s and need a transplant, you are unlikely to receive a kidney from a much older donor.
To qualify as a donor, you must be physically fit and in good general health (no high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, or heart disease). You should be over the age of 18. (Younger potential donors must have parental consent.) Gender and race don’t matter, but blood-type compatibility is essential, since that determines whether or not the recipient’s body will accept the donated organ. At time of death, a single person can donate up to 8 organs, including 2 kidneys, heart, liver, 2 lungs, pancreas, and intestines. You also can donate corneas and various other tissues: skin and bones, blood and more. You can learn about all aspects of organ donation at www.organdonor.gov.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Luigi Biancone et al, “Long-Term Outcomes and Discard Rate of Kidneys by Decade of Extended Criteria Donor Age.” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, December 15, 2016, pii: CJN.06550616