Breaking News Bar
posted: 3/11/2013 5:02 AM

Your chances of dying by 2023? Test offers clues

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Dr. Marisa Cruz at the University of San Francisco VA Medical Center in San Francisco is the lead author of a study showing that a 12-item list of health questions can help predict chances for dying within 10 years for patients aged 50 and older.

      Dr. Marisa Cruz at the University of San Francisco VA Medical Center in San Francisco is the lead author of a study showing that a 12-item list of health questions can help predict chances for dying within 10 years for patients aged 50 and older.
    Associated Press

 
By Lindsey Tanner
Associated Press

Want to know your chances of dying in the next 10 years? Here are some bad signs: getting winded walking several blocks, smoking and having trouble pushing a chair across the room.

That's according to a "mortality index" developed by San Francisco researchers for people older than 50.

Order Reprint Print Article
 
Interested in reusing this article?
Custom reprints are a powerful and strategic way to share your article with customers, employees and prospects.
The YGS Group provides digital and printed reprint services for Daily Herald. Complete the form to the right and a reprint consultant will contact you to discuss how you can reuse this article.
Need more information about reprints? Visit our Reprints Section for more details.

Contact information ( * required )

Success - request sent close

The test scores may satisfy people's morbid curiosity, but the researchers say their 12-item index is mostly for use by doctors. It can help them decide whether costly health screenings or medical procedures are worth the risk for patients unlikely to live 10 more years.

It's best to take the test with a doctor, who can discuss what the score means in the context of patients' own medical history, the study authors say.

The index "wasn't meant as guidance about how to alter your lifestyle," said lead author Dr. Marisa Cruz of the University of California, San Francisco.

Instead, doctors can use the results to help patients understand the pros and cons of such things as rigorous diabetes treatment, colon cancer screening and tests for cervical cancer. Those may not be safe or appropriate for very sick, old people likely to die before cancer ever develops.

The 12 items on the index are assigned points; fewer total points means better odds.

• Men automatically get 2 points. In addition to that, men and women ages 60 to 64 get 1 point; ages 70 to 74 get 3 points; and 85 or over get 7 points.

• Two points each: a current or previous cancer diagnosis, excluding minor skin cancers; lung disease limiting activity or requiring oxygen; heart failure; smoking; difficulty bathing; difficulty managing money because of health or memory problem; difficulty walking several blocks.

• One point each: diabetes or high blood sugar; difficulty pushing large objects, such as a heavy chair; being thin or normal weight.

The highest, or worst, score is a 26, with a 95 percent chance of dying within 10 years. To get that, you'd have to be a man at least 85 years old with all the above conditions.

For a score of zero, which means a 3 percent chance of dying within 10 years, you'd have to be a woman younger than 60 without any of those infirmities -- but at least slightly overweight.

It's hardly surprising that a sick, older person would have a much higher chance of dying than someone younger and more vigorous, and it's well known that women generally live longer than men. But why would being overweight be less risky than being of normal weight or slim?

One possible reason is that thinness in older age could be a sign of illness, Cruz said.

Other factors could also play a role, so the index should be seen as providing clues but not the gospel truth, the research suggests.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Grants from the National Institute on Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research helped pay for the study.

The researchers created the index by analyzing data on almost 20,000 Americans over 50 who took part in a national health survey in 1998. They tracked the participants for 10 years. Nearly 6,000 participants died during that time.

They previously used the test to predict the risk of dying within four years. They said their new effort shows the same index can be used to predict 10-year mortality.

Dr. Stephan Fihn, a University of Washington professor of medicine and health quality measurement specialist with Veterans Affairs health services in Seattle, said the index seems valid and "methodologically sound."

But he said it probably would be most accurate for the oldest patients, who don't need a scientific crystal ball to figure out their days are numbered.

Share this page
Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.