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Wondering if you'll die in the next 4 years? Test may tell you

It sounds like a perfect parlor game for baby boomers suddenly confronting their own mortality: What are your chances of dying within four years?

Researchers have come up with 12 risk factors to try to answer that for people over age 50.

In this game, you want a low score. Zero to 5 points says your risk of dying in four years is less than 4 percent. With 14 points, your risk rises to 64 percent.

Just being male gives you 2 points. So does having diabetes, being a smoker and getting pooped walking several blocks.

Points accrue with each four-year increment after age 60.

The test doesn't ask what you eat, but does ask if you can push a living room chair across the floor.

The quiz is designed "to try to help doctors and families get a firmer sense for what the future may hold," to help plan health care accordingly, said the lead author, Dr. Sei Lee of San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"We know that patients and families want more prognostic information from doctors," Lee said. "It's a very natural human question of, "What's going to happen to me?' "

This test is roughly 81 percent accurate and can give older people an idea of their survival chances, Lee and his colleagues say.

Of course, it isn't foolproof. Other experts note it ignores family history and it's much less meaningful for those at the young end of the spectrum.

The researchers even warn against trying it at home, saying a doctor can help you put things into perspective.

"Even if somebody looks at their numbers and finds they have a 60 percent risk of death, there could be other mitigating factors," said Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a co-author and VA researcher.

The test is based on data involving 11,701 Americans over 50 who took part in a national health survey in 1998. Funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, the researchers analyzed participants' outcomes during a four-year followup. They based their death-risk survey on the health characteristics that seemed to predict death within four years.

Their report appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Donald Jurivich, 52, geriatrics chief at the University of Illinois at Chicago, took the test and got a low score. Jurivich praised the survey for measuring people's ability to function.

But one of Jurivich's patients, Willie Hood Jr., 74, pooh-poohed the test "because I don't know when I'm going to die and nobody else" does either.

THE TEST

1. Age:

60-64: 1 point

65-69: 2 points

70-74: 3 points

75-79: 4 points

80-84: 5 points

85 and older: 7 points

2. Male: 2 points

3. Body-Mass Index:

Less than 25: 1 point

4. Diabetes: 2 points

5. Cancer: 2 points

6. Chronic lung disease: 2 points

7. Congestive heart failure: 2 points

8. Smoking in past week: 2 points

9. Difficulty bathing: 2 points

10. Trouble managing money: 2 points

11. Trouble walking: 2 points

12. Trouble moving big objects: 1 point

SCORE: 0 to 5 points: less than a 4 percent risk of dying

6-9 points: 15 percent risk

10-13 points: 42 percent risk

14 or more points: 64 percent risk

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