I recently overheard a conversation that went along the lines of “Oh no they wouldn’t be interested in my organs I am much too old”. Using my (reasonable) judgement of age I would reckon that the person who made the statement was in her early seventies. This perspective that age is a barrier to organ donation is actually quite commonly held among the public, along with the notion that most organ donors come from motor vehicle accidents. Actually, the majority of organ donors in the UK and most “Western” countries come from individuals who have suffered a cerebrovascular event such as a brain haemorrhage or thrombosis. In terms of age, there is no age barrier to cornea donation and most centres would consider brain stem dead organ donors in their seventies and eighties as potential donors for kidneys and livers. Donors can also potentially donate tissues even if their organs are unsuitable for transplantation. Bone and tendon can still be used from donors of all ages.
Photo by Ed Yourdon
The Scottish Government recently made a specific point of writing to people in the twilight of their years to attempt to inform and educate this sector of the population that they could still register as organ donors and in the event of their death their organs might well be used to help someone else.
There has also been an increase in altruistic kidney donors in their seventies and even eighties following campaigns and publicity informing the public about this possibility.
Education about all kinds of aspects of organ donation is really important to get rid of urban myths that might otherwise stand in the way of people having the opportunity to donate their organs. This FAQ section of the UK Transplant website is a good example of the kind of information that people need to know. Much attention is rightly given to educating young people about organ donation but we shouldn’t forget the other end of the circle after all eighty is the new seventy and the saying “we aren’t getting any younger” is probably more untrue now than it ever was.