You’re Never Too Old to Give the Gift of LifeYou’re Never Too Old to Give the Gift of Life

Add this to the list of things modern seniors aren’t too old to do: save lives by donating organs. An August column in the New York Times highlights the fact that adults over 50 can be organ donors after death, and in at least one case, a 90-year old woman’s family donated her liver to a 60-year old. Doctors say you’re never too old to give the gift of life — a gift many Americans desperately need.

Right now, there are about 120,000 Americans waiting for life-saving donations of hearts, lungs, and other organs. Twenty-two Americans die every day waiting for transplants that never come, and one donor can save as many as eight lives, according to the American Transplant Foundation. If you’re interested in helping save lives with your organs after you die, here’s what you need to know.

The myth of being “too old” to donate organs

Many people who would like to donate their organs assume that once they reach age 50, 60, or 65 that they’re automatically too old to be eligible. Doctors say that’s not true. Organ-donation groups are actively working to let people know that “any age is the right age to donate.” In this video produced by the US Department of Health and Human Services, a transplant surgeon talks about donors as old as age 84 who made a difference in the lives of people who need transplants.

The Mayo Clinic also works to bust myths that prevent older adults from registering as organ donors. “There’s no defined cutoff age for donating organs,” the clinic writes on its website. Instead, Mayo experts say, doctors decide on a case-by-case basis which organs can be given to a patient who needs them.

Not only can older adults donate organs, but adults with health problems may be able to donate organs, too. According to DHHS’ OrganDonor.gov site, “There are very few conditions that would prevent someone from being an organ, eye, or tissue donor—such as HIV infection, active cancer, or a systemic infection. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs or tissues.”

There are other myths that stop some people from registering to donate, including misplaced fears about religious rules, open-casket funerals, the cost of organ donation, and more. One fact donors should know is that dying in the hospital, rather than at home, is typically required in order to donate. You can get the facts from Mayo Clinic, OrganDonor.gov, and the United Network for Organ Sharing.

How to register as an organ donor

You can register yourself as an organ donor through your state’s department of motor vehicles or online through the registration page at OrganDonor.gov or Registerme.org’s registration page. You can also update your contact information or change your donor status through these sites.

Talk to your family and friends

Once you register with your state as a potential donor, “no one can overrule your consent,” including your family and friends, according to OrganDonor.gov. Still, it’s a kind and thoughtful gesture to talk to your loved ones now about your plans so they know what to expect if and when you pass away. You can use the conversation to clear up any myths they may have about donation, let them know how they can register if they wish, and explain how your decision can help save lives.

Learn more about senior health on the SeniorAdvisor.com blog.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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