Predict Your Death: New 'Mortality Index' Offers Clues Into Chances Of Dying In Next Ten Years

By iScienceTimes Staff on March 7, 2013 4:31 PM EST

Scientist
Researchers are closer to predicting an individual's lifespan with a new "mortality index". (Photo: Flickr.com/deady)

A "mortality index", developed by researchers in San Francisco, may have you considering taking that trip to Italy you've always wanted to do sooner rather than later, as their study helps predict whether or not you will live to experience the next 10 years.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have come up with a 12-item 'mortality index' that helps determine a person's longevity. The test, which measures things like current tobacco use and chronic lung disease, uses a point system to predict how likely it is that people 50 and older are to die before 2023. Signs that your lifespan may not be as prolonged as you had hoped include getting winded after walking several blocks, having difficulty pushing a chair across the room, and smoking.

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Research for this new "mortality index" is based on data of more than 20,000 adults age 50 and older. Participants were tracked for ten years, from 1998 to 2008, during which time about 6,000 of them passed away.

According to lead author Dr. Marisa Cruz of the University of California, San Francisco, the index "wasn't meant as guidance about how to alter your lifestyle." Rather, it is intended to be used by doctors to help patients better understand the nuances of things like diabetes treatment, colon cancer screenings and tests for cervical cancer.

"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 Cruz in a statement.

Currently, the average life expectancy in the US is 78.2 years - 81 for women, 76 for men. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, followed by certain cancers and respiratory diseases. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death.

Each of the 12 items on the new "mortality index" has a point value. Like golf, a lower score is better; fewer total points means the likely you are to survive past 2023.

From AP:

     - 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.

A low score is ideal and typically means being younger and free of certain health conditions like lung disease and cancer. Interestingly, according to the study, it also means being slightly overweight (thinness in older individuals is usually seen as a sign of poor health).

The highest - and gravest - score is a 26, which means the subject has a 95 percent chance of dying within 10 years. To get this score, you'd have to be a man who is at least 85 and has all of the above conditions. A score of zero means the subject has a three percent chance of surviving the next decade. To get such a promising score, you'd have to be a woman under 60 with none of the conditions listed on the index.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Stephan Fihn, a University of Washington professor of medicine in Seattle, said the index seems valid and "methodologically sound," according to CBS News.

The index is mostly for use by doctors, who can use the test to decide whether or not aggressive treatments for things like cancer and diabetes would be beneficial for different patients. These should be read as loose indicators, researchers stress, not as chiseled-in-stone truths.

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