While World Blood Donor Day is celebrated this year on June 14, the effort to raise awareness of this simple life-saving gesture is ongoing year-round.
“Donating blood is an act of solidarity,” the World Health Organization exclaims. “Join the effort and save lives.”
Yet, many questions and incorrect assumptions about the process and eligibility often cloud the donor experience and may lead many people to hesitate to do their part. One of those common questions: Can older adults still donate blood?
The short answer: absolutely!
Not only can seniors donate but they’re a crucial demographic helping to save lives, said Chelsey Smith with the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City.
“Yes! In fact, the Baby Boomer generation represents the largest group of donors per population,” Smith said.
In fact, there’s no set age limit for blood donation, as long as the donor is feeling healthy with no restrictions or limitations to normal activities. Although risks still exist for older adults, most of these risks apply to all age groups—and the benefits of blood donation far outweigh these risks.
There’s no set age limit for blood donation, as long as the donor is feeling healthy with no restrictions or limitations to normal activities.
Benefits of donating blood
Besides enjoying the mental health benefits from the altruistic gesture, one single blood donation can save up to three lives—which leads to even greater benefit, said Dr. Sarah Vossoughi, MD, with NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center:
“Giving blood is a way to engage in the immediate community and help people around you,” she said. “People who do these types of things and engage in their community in this way tend to have better health and longer lives.”
One single blood donation can save up to three lives.
But donating blood also brings with it several other health benefits, as Smith explained:
”Studies have shown that donating blood can help improve/maintain cardiovascular health,” she said. “Regular blood donations are linked to lower blood pressure and a lower risk for heart attacks.”
Also, when you donate blood, you receive a free mini-physical (regardless of your age), which includes a test of your iron levels, blood pressure and pulse readings, along with a temperature check. Your blood is also tested for several diseases, including:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- West Nile virus
- Trypanosoma cruzi
The risks: Blood donation side effects
First, it’s important to note that blood donation carries no risk of contracting a disease: New, sterile equipment is used for each donor, and proper sterile procedure is used by trained technicians.
Yet, like any medical procedure, blood donation carries some risks and potential side effects, but those are the same for all age groups. Temporary feelings of nausea may occur, along with feeling lightheaded or dizzy. However, these feelings generally pass after several minutes. Lying down with your feet in the air will make you feel better.
A small amount of bleeding at the site of the needle is also normal, but applying pressure and raising your arm for a couple of minutes will usually stop this. Older adults are more prone to developing a bruise at the site due to the fact that they have thinner skin, but this is nothing to be concerned about.
The Red Cross recommends calling the blood donation center if:
- You still feel lightheaded, dizzy or nauseated after drinking, eating and resting.
- You develop a raised bump or continue bleeding at the needle site.
- You have arm pain, numbness or tingling.
Avoid heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for the rest of the day.
Medications and health conditions that prevent you from donating blood
Certain medications and health conditions prevent people of any age from donating blood. The Red Cross keeps an updated Medication Deferral List, and some medications categories on the list are commonly used by older adults:
- Anticoagulants (blood thinners)
- Beef insulin
- Antiplatelet agents (usually taken to prevent stroke or heart attack)
- Propecia (hair loss remedy)
Donors SHOULD NOT discontinue medications prescribed or recommended by their physician in order to donate blood. Be sure to view the entire list before deciding to donate blood.
Certain medical conditions also disqualify you from donating blood, including a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic, a temperature above 99.5 F, and certain types of cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma. Certain exceptions exist, so be sure to call or visit your local donation center for more information.
If your loved one lives with a cardiac condition, they should wait at least six months following a heart attack and at least six months after a change in their heart condition that resulted in a change to their medications. If they have a pacemaker, they may donate as long as their pulse is between 50 and 100 beats per minute and they meet the other heart disease criteria. Discuss their particular situation with their health care provider and the health historian at the time of donation.
Finally, all donors must weigh at least 110 pounds to be eligible for blood donation for your own safety, but there is no upper weight limit. Visit the Red Cross Eligibility Listing page for a full alphabetical list of criteria.
Ready to donate?
If you or your loved one is ready to donate, visit WhereToDonateBlood.org.