Age no obstacle for kidney donation

JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — Transplants of kidneys from live donors over 70 are safe for the donors and lifesaving for recipients, research suggests.

The study shines light on an underappreciated potential source of transplantable organs that could help address a profound national shortage, the researchers say.

A new study finds kidneys from older donors were somewhat more likely to fail within 10 years of transplant than kidneys from donors aged 50 to 59, recording a 33.3 percent failure rate vs. 21.6 percent for younger organs. But patients who received older kidneys were no more likely to die within a decade of transplantation than those whose kidney donors were in their 50s.

“A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘I wish I could donate a kidney, but I’m too old,'” says Dorry Segev, associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University. “What our study says is that if you’re in good health and you’re over 70, you’re not too old to donate a kidney to your child, your spouse, your friend, anybody.”


Segev acknowledges “it’s better if you have a younger donor, (but) not everyone has a younger donor. And an older live donor is better than no live donor at all.”

The report, published online in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, describes an analysis of records from the 219 living people over 70 who donated a kidney in the United States between 1990 and 2010. The team matched those donors with healthy people in the same age group and found that the donors actually lived longer than those who had both of their kidneys.

Their longevity is attributed to the probability that people who donate kidneys are very healthy to begin with or else surgeons wouldn’t allow them to give up an organ. After donation, he says, they may be more likely than a typical person their age to regularly visit a physician and work hard to stay healthy.

More than 90,000 patients are on the waiting list for kidneys from deceased donors in the United States, and many die waiting for an organ to become available. In some parts of the country, the wait for a kidney can be as long as 10 years.

For many people the option may be either to wait—with a high risk of death during that period—or to find a living donor, such as a relative or friend, even if that donor is over 70, Segev says. People can function normally with one working kidney. A kidney from a living donor older than 70 is likely to last as long as a kidney from a younger deceased donor, Segev says, “and the transplant can occur right away rather than 10 years from now.”

Live donors older than 70 make up only a small percentage of live donors, but Segev says their numbers have been steadily rising, tripling in the past 20 years. The new research should help older people understand that age may not be a barrier to organ donation.

“There are many healthy older adults out there who have loved ones in need of a kidney but are not aware they may be able to donate,” he says. “It is reasonable for them to pursue donation and, if they are cleared by a transplant center, it is safe for them to undergo donation.”

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