When it comes to organ donation, many over-60s believe they’re simply too old or too unwell for their organs or tissues to be considered. But the truth is, people well into their 80s can and have successfully donated, giving people a second chance at life.
Unfortunately, less than 2 per cent of hospital deaths occur in a way where organ donation is possible, meaning just 1,675 Australians received a lifesaving organ transplant last year and an additional 9,600 received much-needed eye and tissue transplants.
“There are some age cut-offs for certain organs, though people in their 80s have donated, for example, their liver, which has been lifesaving for a person in need of an urgent liver transplant,” Dr Helen Opdam, National Medical Director of the Organ and Tissue Authority told Starts at 60. “Successful kidney transplantation has occurred from people in their 70s, who have donated kidneys. We’ve had people in their 70s donate their lungs, which has been lifesaving for someone.”
Some organ and tissue transplants, such as eye tissue, can even have better results and outcomes if they are donated from older individuals, particularly when certain transplantation techniques are used.
Many people wrongly believe that certain health issues and lifestyle factors will prevent them from donating, but that is often not the case. Similarly there are common misconceptions that living in the United Kingdom or having Hepatitis prevents people from being an organ donor, so people shouldn’t rule themselves out without checking the guidelines.
“Sometimes people think because of particular health issues or particular habits they’ve had including smoking or heavy alcohol consumption or drug use, they may be unsuitable,” Opdam said. “None of those things, including older age, prevent someone from being a donor.”
While people can choose which organs and tissues they want to donate, it’s important to be willing to donate everything. However people should be aware that some organs may not be deemed unsuitable for a variety of reasons, such as the way that a person has died.
“If people are If people are wanting to help others through donating, being prepared to donate whatever might be salvageable is the most generous thing,” Opdam explained. “You don’t know ahead of time what may or may not be suitable.”
In Australia, the majority of people currently waiting for an organ transplant are waiting for a kidney. Dialysis means people can live with kidney failure for years until they receive a transplant, but it’s not always that simple for other organs.
“If someone’s kidneys fail, they can be kept alive on dialysis, but if someone’s heart, liver or lungs fail, often there’s not those long-term supports that keep them alive until an organ becomes available for transplant,” Opdam said. “There’s fewer numbers of people waiting for lifesaving heart, liver and lung transplants.”
Up to 10 lives can be saved from just one donor and, incredibly, some organs, such as the liver, can even be divided into two.
It takes less than a minute to register your donation plans at donatelife.gov.au. People only require their Medicare number, although it’s also important for people to discuss their donation plans with their loved ones and family members.