Simple test predicts chances of dying
Updated: 2006-02-16 06:07
CHICAGO: It sounds like a perfect parlour game for baby boomers suddenly
confronting their own mortality: What are your chances of dying within four
Researchers have come up with 12 risk factors to try to answer that for
people who are 50 and older.
This is one game where you want a low score. Zero to 5 points says your risk
of dying in four years is less than 4 per cent. With 14 points, your risk rises
to 64 per cent.
Just being male gives you 2 points. So does having diabetes, being a smoker,
and getting pooped trying to walk several blocks.
Points accrue with each four-year increment after age 60.
The test doesn't ask what you eat, but it does ask if you can push a living
room chair across the floor.
The quiz is designed "to try to help doctors and families get a firmer sense
for what the future may hold," to help plan health care accordingly, says lead
author Dr Sei Lee, a geriatrics researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs
Medical Centre, who helped develop it.
"We know that patients and families want more prognostic information from
doctors," Lee said. "It's a very natural human question of, 'What's going to
happen to me?' We also know that doctors are very cautious about giving
prognostic information because they don't want to be wrong."
This test is roughly 81 per cent accurate and can give older people a
reasonable idea of their survival chances, Lee and his colleagues say.
Of course, it isn't foolproof. Other experts note it ignores family history
and it's much less meaningful for those at the young end of the spectrum.
The researchers even warn, Don't try this at home, saying a doctor can help
you put things into perspective.
"Even if somebody looks at their numbers and finds they have a 60 per cent
risk of death, there could be other mitigating factors," said co-author and VA
researcher Dr Kenneth Covinsky.
There are things you can do to improve your chances, he notes, such as
quitting smoking or taking up exercise.
The test is based on data involving 11,701 Americans over 50 who took part in
a national health survey in 1998. Funded by a grant from the National Institute
on Aging, the researchers analyzed participants' outcomes during a four-year
follow-up. They based their death-risk survey on the health characteristics that
seemed to predict death within four years.
Their report appears in yesterday's Journal of the American Medical
Dr Donald Jurivich, geriatrics chief at the University of Illinois at
Chicago, took the test and got a nice low score. Jurivich is 52. He said he'd
feel better about his score if both his parents hadn't died prematurely.
He praised the survey for measuring people's ability to
function such as being able to move a piece of furniture or keep track of
expenses signs that can be more telling than other health factors.