Renal transplantation is an accepted and successful treatment modality in elderly patients with end-stage renal disease. In comparison with maintenance dialysis, transplantation has been shown to confer a mortality benefit as well as improvements in quality of life in older individuals with end-stage renal disease. Despite this, overall outcomes of renal transplantation in elderly individuals have, in general, been less successful than those of younger renal transplant recipients. Largely, this has been due to the particular vulnerability of elderly patients to the immunosuppressive medications used in renal transplantation. This review article covers these issues in some detail and briefly discusses some of the pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, physiological and immunological differences between younger and older transplant recipients. Elderly renal transplant recipients have both a higher rate of patient death and allograft loss censored for death. Upon multivariate analysis, age of the recipient is strongly associated with allograft loss independent of other known factors. Acute rejections are less frequent in older individuals; however the consequence of a rejection if it occurs is negative for long-term graft survival. On the other hand, death by infection is vastly increased in older versus younger renal transplant recipients. In general, the pharmacokinetics of the immunosuppressive agents are little affected by age, but the tolerance to these agents seems to decrease with increasing age. Elderly renal transplant recipients present a very difficult clinical challenge. As the elderly become an ever-increasing segment of the renal transplant population, new and innovative immunosuppressive strategies will have to be considered and applied.
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