If you’re older than 50, a simple 12-question quiz could give you a clue as to whether you’ll still be here in 10 years — or whether you should start getting your affairs in order. (Or change your bad habits.) Developed by doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, the so-called “mortality index” was created to help patients understand the pros and cons of costly health screenings or medical procedures. That is, if you’re not likely to live another 10 years, why have those expensive, and often invasive, tests? Led by Dr. Maria Cruz, the San Francisco researchers created the mortality index by analyzing data on almost 20,000 Americans, all of whom were over the age of 50 and took part in a national health survey in 1998. During the 10-year follow-up period, nearly 6,000 of the participants died. The test follows below, but do note it’s best to take it with your doctor or, at the very least, discuss the results with him or her so you can understand your score in the context of your own medical history. The 12 items on this quiz are each assigned points. The fewer total points you get, the better your odds of living longer. Total points can range from zero (best) to 26 (worst).
Take the mortality index:
1. If you’re a man, add two points.
2. What is your age? If you’re between the ages of 60 to 64, add one point. If you’re between the ages of 70 to 74, add three points. If you’re over 85, add seven points. All other ages, add zero points.
3. If you have a current or previous cancer diagnosis, excluding minor skin cancers, add two points.
4. If you have a lung disease limiting activity or requiring oxygen, add two points.
5. If you have heart failure, add two points.
6. If you smoke, add two points.
7. If you have difficulty bathing, add two points.
8. If you have difficulty managing money because of health or memory problems, add two points.
9. If you have difficulty walking several blocks, add two points.
10. If you have diabetes or high blood sugar, add one point.
11. If you have difficulty pushing large objects, such as a heavy chair, add one point.
12. If you are thin or of normal weight, add one point. If you are overweight, add zero points.
The worst score is 26: To get this score, which means you have a 95 percent chance of dying within 10 years, you have to be a man who is at least 85 years old with all of the above health conditions.
The best score is 0: To get this score, which means you have a 3 percent chance of dying within 10 years, you have to be a woman younger than 60, who is slightly overweight and has none of these health conditions.
Here’s the biggest question: Why is being normal weight or slim a risk factor for death, while being overweight is not? One possible reason, according to the researchers, is that being thin in old age can be a sign of illness.