Checklist Predicts if You'll Be Alive in 10 Years
The researchers created the checklist based on data from a national study of nearly 20,000 U.S. adults older than 50. They found that 12 factors, considered together, can give an idea of an older adult's risk of dying within 10 years.
Those include age, sex, weight, smoking and whether a person has diabetes, lung disease, heart disease or physical limitations such as difficulty walking a few blocks or moving large objects.
Doctors can get that information using yes-or-no questions, and then assign points for each answer, Cruz said. If you're between 60 and 64 years old, for example, you get one point; if you're 65 to 69 years old, you get two points.
People with a total score of one have, on average, a 5 percent chance of dying in the next 10 years. A score of five translates to a 23 percent chance of dying within a decade, while a score of 10 corresponds to a 70 percent risk.
None of that is set in stone, Cruz said, but the scoring system breaks people into "rough categories" of risk.
Having an idea of an older patient's life expectancy is important because some medical interventions "take a long time to pay off," said Dr. James Pacala, president of the American Geriatrics Society.
"Most cancer screenings, for example, take five to 10 years to pay off," Pacala said. For an older person unlikely to live that long, the risks of screening -- such as false-positive results, needless invasive tests and anxiety -- are likely to outweigh any benefit.
"If you care for older patients, this is something you always have running in the back of your mind," Pacala said. "What is the rest of this patient's life likely to look like?"
Right now, he said, doctors can get an idea by looking up average life expectancy for a patient based on age and sex, and then considering that person's overall health. The checklist in this study, Pacala said, offers a more "formal" way to do that.
"This provides us with evidence-based numbers," he said.