When’s Your Time to Die?

risk of dyingWhat are your chances of dying in the next 10 years?

Obviously there are some activities that may increase your risk  such as driving drunk and active military duty in a war zone, but how about getting winded after walking several blocks or having trouble pushing a chair across the room

Turns out the latter might be just as dangerous as the former.

Researchers at the University of San Francisco VA Medical Center have recently come up with a “mortality index” to predict when a person may die.  Marisa Cruz and her colleagues have developed a list of 12 questions that can help predict chances of dying within 10 years for patients aged 50 and older.  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.

risk of dying 2While the test scores may satisfy people’s morbid curiosity, the researchers say their index wasn’t meant as guidance about how to alter your lifestyle.  Instead, it is mostly for use by doctors, to help them discuss the pros and cons of costly health screenings or medical procedures in patients who are unlikely to live 10 more years.

That said, we know that many of our readers are “simply dying” to take the test themselves – right now.

So without further ado…here’s how it works.

The 12 items on the mortality index are assigned points.  The fewer your total points the better odds of living.

  • Men automatically get 2 points. In addition, 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 for: a current or previous cancer diagnosis, excluding minor skin cancers; lung disease limiting activity or requiring oxygen; congestive cardiac failure; smoking within the past 2 weeks; difficulty bathing; difficulty managing money because of health or memory problem; difficulty walking several blocks.
  • One point each for: 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  26, which equates to  a 95% 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.
healthy young womanFor a score of zero, which correlates to a 3% chance of dying within 10 years, you’d have to be a woman of “normal weight” younger than 60 without any of those infirmities.

While it’s hardly surprising that a sick, older person would have a much higher chance of dying than someone younger 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.

Dr. Stephan Fihn, a health quality measurement specialist with Veterans Affairs health services in Seattle, said the index seems valid and “methodologically sound.”
However, he adds that it is probably most accurate for the oldest patients, who don’t need a scientific crystal ball to figure out their days are numbered.

For fans of SRxA’s Word on Health, I’m pleased to report that my 10-year mortality index is zero. Let the blogging continue!

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