Archive for Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Quiz gives boomers a date with mortality

February 15, 2006


— It sounds like a perfect parlor game for baby boomers suddenly confronting their own mortality: What are your chances of dying within four years?

Researchers have come up with 12 risk factors to try to answer that for people over age 50.

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 percent. With 14 points, your risk rises to 64 percent.

Just being male gives you 2 points. So does having diabetes, being a smoker or 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 Center, 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 percent 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 is 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 put things into perspective.

"Even if somebody looks at their numbers and finds they have a 60 percent 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 today's Journal of the American Medical Assn.

What's your risk of death?

If you're over 50, this test developed by researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center attempts to calculate your risk of death within four years. Of course, it's not foolproof, but the researchers say it can give you a rough idea of your survival chances. 1. Age: 60-64 years old, 1 point; 65-69, 2 points; 70-74, 3 points; 75-79, 4 points; 80-84, 5 points; 85 and older, 7 points. 2. Male or Female: Male, 2 points. 3. Body-Mass Index: Less than 25 (normal weight or less), 1 point. (Calculate by multiplying height in inches times height in inches; then divide weight in pounds by that total; then multiply the total by 703.) 4. Diabetes: 2 points. 5. Cancer (excluding minor skin cancers): 2 points. 6. Chronic lung disease that limits activities or requires oxygen use at home: 2 points. 7. Congestive heart failure: 2 points. 8. Cigarette smoking in the past week: 2 points. 9. Difficulty bathing/showering because of a health or memory problem: 2 points. 10. Difficulty managing money, paying bills, keeping track of expenses because of a health or memory problem: 2 points. 11. Difficulty walking several blocks because of a health problem: 2 points. 12. Difficulty pushing or pulling large objects like a living room chair because of a health problem: 1 point.

Score 0-5 points: less than a 4 percent risk of dying 6-9 points: 15 percent risk 10-13 points: 42 percent risk 14 or more points: 64 percent risk. Note: Researchers say the 1-point penalty for having a body-mass index under 25 (normal weight or less) is based on findings that being underweight is a health risk for elderly people.


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