So you are reading or have gone through menopause, a major life transition. That change for many leads to another question – how long do I have before I die? Admittedly, no one knows that. I mean, you or I could be in a fatal car crash or be the victim of a freak natural occurrence.
However, there are many things that are in our control. A new mortality index that’s just been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association gives doctors a guide to use for older patients in a clinical setting. While it’s not geared for self-diagnosis, I wanted to share it because it can be an eye-opener when looking at your overall health.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco developed the mortality index using data analyzed from more than 20,000 adults over the age of 50 from 1998-2009. These people were part of the Health and Retirement Study, which is a nationally representative sample of independently living U.S. adults.
“The most important thing we found was the risk factors that go into estimating shorter intermediate survival are very similar to risk factors that go into estimating the likelihood of longer-term survival,” said Dr. Marisa Cruz, a clinical fellow with the UCSF School of Medicine and the study’s lead researcher. “We also found that building a tool that clinicians can use to estimate that likelihood of longer-term survival requires considering many different types of risk factors. Not one particular risk factor tells you whether or not you are likely to survive but a host of attributes about your life and your medical conditions will give you a clearer picture.”
So what’s on the index? Here’s the list and the scoring:
- Age – The researchers developed an increasing scale by age. For instance, people who are between the ages of 60-64 get one point while people who are 85 years of age and older get seven points.
- Sex – Males automatically get two points. Women do not get any points.
- Weight and height – A BMI that is less than 25 gets one point.
- Blood sugar – One point if a doctor has ever told the person that she has diabetes or high blood sugar.
- Cancer – Two points are awarded if a doctor has told a person that she has cancer or a malignant tumor, excluding minor skin cancers.
- Lung capacity – Two points are awarded if a person has a chronic lung disease that limits normal activities or requires oxygen at home.
- Heart – Two points are awarded if a doctor has told a person that she has congestive heart failure.
- Smoking – Two points are awarded if the person has smoked cigarettes during the past week.
- Cleanliness – Two points are awarded if the person has difficulty with bathing or showering due to a health or memory problem.
- Money – Two points are awarded if the person has difficulty managing money (paying bills or keeping track of expenses) due to a health or memory problem.
- Mobility – Two points are awarded if the person has difficulty walking several blocks.
- Strength – One point is awarded if the person has difficulty pulling or pushing large objects, such as a living room chair.
Most of this study wasn’t surprising to me (and probably not to you), but there was one big one – low body mass. So why would being overweight be less risky than having a normal weight or being slim? In an Associated Press story in the Houston Chronicle, Dr. Cruz hypothesized that thinness in older people may be a sign of illness.