In the United States, a blood transfusion— first attempted in England in 1628 — occurs every two seconds. Contrast that with the fact that roughly only 3% of the U.S. population donates blood each year. The need for blood is always paramount, with a diverse donor pool considered a priority to ensure all communities are served. But is it recommended that seniors donate to this significant cause? Is there an age limit for safe blood donation?
First, though, on December 31, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon signed a proclamation naming January as National Blood Donor Month, designated as such because donations typically slow down around and after the holidays. Also, people are impacted by colds and flu and now certainly COVID variants, much of this exacerbated during colder months, so they are less likely to participate. A critical blood shortage can result, when essentially just going out to make a single donation can save multiple lives.
Being a Blood Donor Can Provide Seniors a Sense of Purpose
While some countries impose an age limit on donating blood, the U.S. does not as case studies reveal no compromise to health. One of these studies of participants age 71 and older conducted in Canada, Australia, England, and the U.S., and people age 80 and older in New Zealand, concluded there was no concern for adverse donor reactions in a senior age group. While the subject of safe donation in an elderly population arises from time to time, experts say prior information may be outdated.
In fact, blood donation may actually serve two purposes, in both a younger and older demographic. Not only does it help the recipient, it also boosts the mental and emotional esteem of the donor, having fulfilled a lifesaving need. As most of us look for ways to do some good in the world, it’s hard to ignore what just an hour at a blood drive can do to achieve this.
What Senior Donors Can Expect at the Donation Site
Though the act of giving blood takes under 10 minutes, the entire process takes about an hour. This includes a blood pressure and hemoglobin check, as well as pulse and temperature. Questions about medication, travel, and overall health history are asked. Following donation, participants are given a snack and drink and asked to relax for a few minutes to make sure they feel steady enough to leave.
How Quickly Does Blood Replenish?
Plasma extracted from a blood donation is replaced within 24 hours. Red blood cells require about four to six weeks, which is why eight weeks is required between whole blood donations.
Age Typically Not a Factor Among Those Who Cannot Donate
According to the American Red Cross there are reasons people cannot donate, but they have nothing to do with age if you are 17 or older. If you weigh under 110 pounds, you cannot donate. The aforementioned cold, flu, and COVID, low iron, or travel outside the U.S. may preclude donation. Though most medications are acceptable for donors, certain meds such as blood thinners, or oral or injectable HIV prevention drugs, also do not allow for blood donation. Some simply require stopping usage a few months, weeks, or even just days before donating, so it is best to check with the Red Cross or your physician.
Seniors May Find Other Ways to Give During Blood Donor Month
If you cannot give blood, volunteering, hosting a blood drive, or making a financial contribution to the Red Cross can make a big difference in keeping the available blood supply going. A gift also provides for ongoing community support and education about lifesaving skills and practices.
“Can Seniors Safely Donate Blood?” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor.