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The over 50 test: How do you measure up to others your age?

We live in a competitive culture. We're people who keep score. From standardized tests to golf handicaps, we like to know how we measure up to others. • As we grow older, though, we begin to keep a different kind of tabulation. It's not that we start forgetting where we left the reading glasses. It's that we wonder whether others in our troupe also forget, and how we compare. • Here are some tests, decidedly unscientific, adapted from a variety of sources — physicians, professors, websites, research articles — to evaluate how we're doing mentally and physically now that we're over 50.


What it measures: Verbal fluency, mental organization, short-term memory

Test: For one minute, count how many words you can say beginning with the letter F. For another minute, say words starting with A. Then a third minute with S. Add them up. No proper nouns, no repeats, no variations on the same word. (If you say "apple," you can't use "apples.")

Score: On average, people ages 50 to 59 listed 42 words; 60- to 69-year-olds listed 38.5 words; 70- to 79-year-olds, 35 words. Those in their 80s named 29 words, and those ages 90 to 95, 28 words.

Good to know: Unlike some other skills, vocabulary improves up to a fairly mature age, and with education. People in their 40s bested everyone with 44 words, while 16- to 19-year-olds averaged 39 words. One of the earliest versions of this test was developed in 1938 to assess brain injury. In 1967, a research group developed scores for letters A through Y (X and Z were excluded) and found that F, A and S were among the "easiest" letters, allowing people to come up with the greatest number of words. On this test, and all others mentioned here, practicing can improve results.

Source: Tom Tombaugh, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, and colleagues tested 1,300 individuals who had no cognitive impairment. Their results were published in a 1999 article, "Normative data stratified by age and education for two measures of verbal fluency," which appeared in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology.


What it measures: Short-term memory

Shopping list:

2 slices veal

1 pound ham

1 salami

3 ounces gorgonzola

1 pound rice

1 pound tomatoes

2 lettuce

3 ounces prunes

2 cups cherries

1 bottle water

1 pound sugar

4 sandwiches

10 bus tickets

1 box matches

3 white envelopes

1 box cookies

1 bottle dish soap

1 quart milk

2 turkey thighs

1 newspaper

Test: Look at the shopping list above. Study it carefully for five minutes, then cover up the list. See how many of the items you can write down — both name and quantity — in five minutes.

Score: On average, 60- to 80-year-olds recalled nine items. People 20 to 35 years old averaged 14 items.

Good to know: This study found that if people practiced, they could improve their memory.

Source: Elena Cavallini and colleagues from the Universita di Pavia in Italy tested 60 individuals for their 2003 study, "Aging and everyday memory," which was published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.


What it measures: Agility, dynamic balance

Test: Time how long it takes to stand from a seated position, walk 8 feet, turn around and walk back to the starting point and sit down. Focused on an older demographic.

Typical scores for men:

Ages 60 to 64: 3.8 to 5.6 seconds

Ages 80 to 84: 5.2 to 7.6 seconds

Typical scores for women:

Ages 60 to 64: 4.4 to 6 seconds

Ages 80 to 84: 5.7 to 8.7 seconds

Good to know: Taking more than nine seconds means you may be at risk for falls and should consider seeking assistance getting on or off a bus or getting up from a seated position.

Source: Jessie Jones and Roberta Rikli, kinesiology professors at California State University at Fullerton, published the Senior Fitness Test Manual in 2001 to assess older adults' abilities to perform daily tasks. The performance standards are based on their national study of more than 7,000 Americans.


What it measures: Balance

Test: Balance on one foot, eyes closed. Right-handed folks, raise the left foot — lefties, raise the right — about 6 inches off the floor, bending the knee at a 45-degree angle. Then start the timer. As soon as you sway, open your eyes or touch the floor, then stop the clock. Do this test three times and average your score.

Score: 50-year-olds should aim to balance for 9 seconds; 60-year-olds, 7 seconds; 70-year-olds, 4 seconds.

Good to know: Your ability to balance is a good indicator of risk of future falls.

Source: RealAge, an online resource developed by medical writers, epidemiologists and physicians, featured this test for age groups ranging from 25 to 70;


What it measures: Proprioception, or your sense of where you are in relation to your surroundings

Test: For 30 seconds, march in place, eyes closed. Then open your eyes and see if you've moved from your original position.

Score: Although this test lacks age-related scores, if you were unable to stay in one place or if you are turned in a different direction, you may have proprioception problems.

Good to know: Proprioception allows us to do two things at the same time, without looking. We rely on this sense to open a kitchen drawer while watching a boiling pot, for example, or when we keep our eyes on the road while turning on the windshield wipers. This sense diminishes as people age. You can improve your proprioception by working on your balance.

Source: Gabi Redford, editorial projects manager for AARP the Magazine, suggested this task during a phone interview.


What it measures: Aerobic endurance

Test: How far can you walk in six minutes?

Typical scores for men:

Ages 60 to 64: 610 to 735 yards

Ages 80 to 84: 445 to 605 yards

Typical scores for women:

Ages 60 to 64: 545 to 660 yards

Ages 80 to 84: 385 to 540 yards

Good to know: Clinicians often use this test to evaluate the general physical ability of patients with various medical conditions. Those who can walk fewer than 350 yards are considered to be at risk for falls.

Source: Jessie Jones and Roberta Rikli, kinesiology professors at California State University at Fullerton, published the Senior Fitness Test Manual in 2001 to assess older adults' abilities to perform daily tasks. The performance standards are based on their national study of more than 7,000 Americans.

The over 50 test: How do you measure up to others your age? 01/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:16pm]
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