Seniors as Kidney Donors and Transplant Recipients

Seniors are still young enough to receive a kidney transplant, donate a live kidney or become an organ donor.

Older couple laughing
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Seniors Aren't Too Old to Get a Transplant

Older adults are not prohibited from getting a kidney transplant. Many of the nation's transplant centers don't even have an upper age limit for kidney transplant recipients.

Almost half of all Americans suffering from advanced kidney disease are older than 65 and the wait time for hopeful recipients age 65 and older is nearly 4 years.

If your physician suggests getting your name on the list to receive a kidney transplant, you're probably already on dialysis or about to be. Getting the surgery is an attractive alternative to dialysis because:

  • Your risk of death from severe disease drops by about half.
  • Your quality of life is likely to significantly improve.
  • Transplantation is both less expensive and more effective than spending the rest of your life on dialysis.

Seniors Can Be Organ Donors

Are you a senior considering donating a live kidney to someone in need? You're not alone. The United Network for Organ Sharing reports 96 people, age 65 and older were living kidney donors in the U.S. in 2011.

The data from existing research on whether seniors should be living kidney donors is promising but also contradictory, and, as the researchers point out, insufficient to draw a definitive conclusion at this time.

A study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology compared two groups of kidney recipients. One group received a kidney from live donors age 70 or older and their survival rate after five years was 74.5 percent. The other group received an organ from younger donors and had an 83 percent survival rate over the same time period.

An analysis of 12 clinical studies published in the American Journal of Transplantation also found higher five-year mortality rates for older-donor recipients. Additionally, the date showed older organs were more likely to fail during that same 5-year period.

In contrast, a set of researchers from New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center found survival rates for patients receiving a live kidney from a donor 60 years old or older were equal to those receiving a younger organ.

Older adults considering donating a live kidney should keep in mind that the majority of transplant centers don't currently accept organs from seniors 70 years old or older.

Kidney Donation May Not Affect Seniors' Lifespan

If your planning to make a live donation, consider that as you get older it's more likely the health of your remaining kidney will decline. Your donation is likely to make a patient's lifespan longer, but wondering if losing your organ will shorten yours is a legitimate concern.

At least one clinical study presents the possibility that live kidney donation for older adults does not affect their lifespan. However, the researchers acknowledge this subject requires more research to uncover the possibility of long-term consequences.

The eight-year study tracked 3,400 participants ages 55 and older, who made live kidney donations. The researchers also followed a demographic doppelganger who didn't donate a kidney. The results showed no significant difference in death rates between the two groups.

Can Seniors Donate a Kidney to Younger People?

Seniors making a live donation most commonly donate their organs to a middle-aged or older adult they already know, although some donate anonymously. So, if you're considering making a donation to a patient younger than you, yes, it is possible and not unusual.

If you have made the magnanimous choice to be an organ donor, an option you can choose at your local Department of Motor Vehicles when you renew your driver license, your kidneys enter a system that distributes organs anonymously and could end up as a life-saving gift to someone younger than you.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Dr. Knoll, et al. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology: Is Kidney Transplantation for Everyone? The Example of the Older Dialysis Patient (2009)
  • Dr. Segev, et al. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology: Living Kidney Donors Ages 70 and Older - Recipient and Donor Outcomes (2011).
  • Graham, Judith. The Washington Post: Hospitals Reassess the Age Factor In Evaluating Candidates for Kidney Transplants (Jan. 28, 2013).
  • University of Florida Health Podcasts: Kidney Donation Won't Necessarily Shorten Senior's Lives (2014).

By Marian Anne Eure
Marian Eure, RN, is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in adult health care, health promotion, and health education.