An increasing number of older adults are diagnosed with an end-stage liver disease. The end-stage liver disease is a life-threatening condition in which the liver stops working normally.

It can be caused by hepatitis, alcoholism, cancer, and other conditions. A liver transplant is the only treatment for end-stage liver disease. Although older adults make up almost 24% of people waiting for liver transplants, they have often been considered candidates for receiving this life-saving surgery.

That's because of older adults often poorly following liver transplant surgery. One reason for this is that older adults with liver disease often have many other health challenges which make a recovery from transplant surgery more difficult.

Liver transplant patients

However, researchers have recently reported successful liver transplants in older adults – even in people who are in their 80's. To learn more about older adults and liver transplants, a team of researchers studied information from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) from 2003 to 2016.

The SRTR data system includes information about all liver donors; liver transplant patients wait for lists and people who have received transplants in the United States. The team's study was published in the  Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers learned that out of the 58,598 adults who received liver transplants, 8,627 (14.7%) were older adults. Of them:

1. 78% were aged 65-69 

2. 1% were aged 70-74 

3. 6% were aged 75-79 

4. 1% were aged 80 or over 

5. 1% were women, and 6.4% were African-American.

The number of liver transplants performed in older adults each year increased from 2003 to 2016. In 2016, 1,144 older adults received liver transplants (20.7% of all liver transplant recipients), up from 263 older recipients in 2003 (when older adults made up just 9.5% of all liver transplant recipients).

Recently, older adults have been doing better following liver transplants. When the researchers took all the factors into account, the one-year acute rejection rate in 2013-2016 was 30% lower than it was in 2003-2006. Also, the risk of death was 57% lower than in 2003-2006.

The researchers also reported steadily over time. Older patients with end-stage liver disease and their healthcare providers should be aware of these findings. The researchers suggested that they should not be older and their healthcare providers from liver transplants.