What considerations are there for senior citizens donating blood?
While all of the eligibility requirements apply to blood and platelet donors of all ages, there is the possibility that risk factors may increase with aging. Some senior citizens have more health conditions than their younger counterparts, are on more medications, or have a longer history of travel or lifestyles that make them ineligible to donate or may cause deferment of donation. Most, however, should be able to give blood without difficulty if they understand the guidelines.
Height and Weight Requirements for Giving Blood
Height requirements apply only to teenage donors. However, to donate whole blood or platelets, you must weigh at least 110 pounds, regardless of your height. This is because at weights below 110 pounds, blood volume may not be adequate to support donation. Those at lower weights risk fainting during the blood donation process, and if this occurs, the needle must be removed and the blood must be disposed of.
Health Considerations When Donating Blood
First and foremost, if you wish to donate blood or platelets, you must be in generally good health and able to complete all of your normal activities. You must be feeling well on the day of your scheduled donation. Chronic conditions do not exclude you from giving blood, as long as they are well-controlled.
When you arrive to donate blood, you will complete a health check during which your vital signs and blood counts will be checked. If you have a temperature greater than 99.5 degrees, you will not be allowed to give blood. If your blood pressure is greater than 180/100 or less than 90/50, you will not be allowed to donate on that day. If your pulse is less than 50 beats per minute or more than 100 beats per minute, you will have to defer donating. Finally, if your hemoglobin, which measures iron, is too low or high, you will have to delay. Hemoglobin must be 12.5 g/dL for women and 13.0 g/dL for men, and no higher than 20 g/dL.
You will also be asked to answer questions regarding your health history and treatments. If you are experiencing cold, flu, or other virus symptoms or are being treated for a bacterial infection with antibiotics, you must not donate. Anyone being treated with antibiotics should wait until they complete their treatment to donate; however, senior citizens may want to wait a bit longer as their immune systems may take longer to recover, and they should not risk relapsing into infection.
Some medical conditions do exclude seniors and other potential donors. These include history of any type of leukemia or lymphoma, hemochromatosis, hepatitis B or C, HIV positive status, history of Ebola, Sickle Cell Disease; or the rare conditions of Chagas Disease, Leishmaniasis, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (or blood relationship to someone with CJD). You may not donate if you have an active TB infection. You also may not donate at any time if you have had a dura mater transplant or had injections of hGH between 1958-1985. You should be aware if you have any of these relevant diagnoses.
Other medical conditions do not prevent the possibility of blood or platelet donation, but will require a delay in donation. Those with a history of cancer other than leukemia and lymphoma are eligible to donate twelve months after the end of their final treatment. Those who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, or angina must wait at least six months before donating. Anyone who has received an organ transplant or a blood transfusion is required to defer giving blood for three months.
People who have been sexually active with others with hepatitis must wait at least one year before giving blood, and those who have been sexually active with anyone with HIV must wait at least three months. Anyone being treated for syphilis or gonorrhea must wait three months after the end of their last treatment before donating.
While this may seem like a lot of information, most of these conditions will not apply to people who feel in good health and choose to give blood.
How Do Medications and Vaccines Impact Eligibility to Donate?
Medications have an impact on eligibility to donate blood, which may be important for senior citizens who are taking prescription drugs. Most obviously, you should not give blood if you are being treated with blood thinners, such as Coumadin, Warfarin, Heparin, Eliquis, Xarelto, or Lovenox, among others. If your doctor discontinues use of blood thinners, you may donate blood or platelets after seven days. Aspirin, too, is a mild blood thinner, and must not be taken for two calendar days before giving blood.
Immunizations also continue to be part of life for seniors, and may impact your ability to donate blood briefly. You must wait two weeks to give blood after being vaccinated for rubeola, mumps, polio (by mouth), COVID-19, or yellow fever. You must wait three weeks after immunization for hepatitis B. You must wait four weeks following shots for varicella/chicken pox or rubella, or after the MMR shot or Zostavax for shingles. (There is no delay required if SHINGRIX vaccine is given for shingles). Finally, you must wait eight weeks after receiving smallpox vaccination before giving blood; however, if you develop complications from the smallpox vaccine, you must wait at least 14 days after symptoms resolve to donate.
Most medications and immunizations impact eligibility to give blood only for a short time. Seniors who take multiple medications are typically still able to donate blood or platelets.
Travel and Other Lifestyle Considerations When Donating Blood
As with blood donors of all ages, travel must be considered to ensure blood is safe for recipients. Recent travelers should fill out a travel form provided by the blood donation center. If you have traveled to malaria-dense areas, you will have to wait three months after travel provided you were not infected. If you did get malaria, you will have to wait three years after completing treatment to donate blood.
Additionally, if you have been infected with Zika during your travels, you will have to wait 120 days after symptoms resolve before giving blood. If you have ever had Ebola, you will be unable to donate. And if you have spent extensive time in areas where vCJD (“Mad Cow Disease”) is common, such as the United Kingdom, you may not be able to donate, depending upon the guidelines provided by the center.
Aside from travel, there are a few other lifestyle factors that may affect the ability to give blood. If you have been in jail for more than 72 hours, you need to wait one year before donating. IV drug use, sexual contact between two male partners, and sexual contact with anyone who takes payment for sex will cause a 3-month deferment of blood donation. Recent tattoos and piercings are usually acceptable, unless they are completed in an unregulated facility.
When in doubt, call ahead or look at your donation center’s website for specific guidelines and exclusions that may apply to your situation. And remember that while the guidelines I have provided are comprehensive, they apply only in the United States. Other countries do have different regulations, so if you are donating blood abroad, consider seeking local resouces for information.
I Can’t Donate. How Can I Help?
If a medical condition, medication, low body weight, travel, or lifestyle factors prevent you from donating but you still want to be part of the process, you can still contribute. Blood donation centers are always looking for volunteers to help coordinate blood drives and register donors. You could also host a blood drive in your community if you have access to a facility that might work. You could also consider contributing financially to the Red Cross of the hospital of your choice to support their work.