Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

12 questions that calculate your chances of dying within the next 10 years

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Regularly experiencing difficulty walking short distances will hurt the score of a person using the Lee Index, a new health evaluation that uses 12 questions to calculate a person's death risk in order to help providers and patients figure out the best treatment options.

It's a simple, if not startlingly morbid, concept: Answer 12 questions and calculate your risk of dying within the next decade.

Any takers?

There's more to it than that, thankfully. First, it's called the Lee Index, and is less a "Determine My Death Date" game than it is a medical evaluation that a health provider would administer to a patient. Researchers introduced their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and wrote that it's intended to help providers figure out what sort of treatment is best for their patients:

Preventive interventions, such as cancer screening, expose patients to immediate risks with delayed benefits, suggesting that risks outweigh benefits in patients with limited life expectancy. Recent guidelines recommend considering patients’ life expectancy when deciding whether to pursue preventive interventions with long lag times to benefit…

In other words, if it's unlikely that a patient won't be around much longer, then certain treatments don't make much sense. The Lee Index is meant to help providers navigate that.

It's also only meant to be used among patients older than 50. Here are the 12 questions, followed by the point value of each:

  • If you're a man: That's 2 points.
  • If you currently use tobacco: 2 points.
  • If your body mass index is less than 25: 1 point. (You can calculate yours here.)
  • For any form of cancer you have that isn't skin cancer: 2 points.
  • If you have diabetes: 2 points.
  • If you're living with chronic lung disease: That's 2 more points.
  • If you have heart failure: 2 points.
  • Do you have difficulty bathing? If yes, add 2 points.
  • Do you have a hard time managing finances? If so, that's another 2 points.
  • Is it hard for you to walk several blocks? A "yes" means 2 more points.
  • If you have difficulty pushing or pulling large objects: Add 1 point.

And finally, if you are:

  • Between 60 and 64 years old: Take 1 point.
  • Between 65 and 69: 2 points.
  • Between 70 and 74: 3 points.
  • Between 75 and 79: 4 points.
  • Between 80 and 84: 5 points
  • 85 or older: Add 7 points.

Researchers then calculated the odds of people with different point totals dying within the next 10 years. For example, a person who took the evaluation and ended with zero points has a risk of dying within the next 10 years that's about 2 percent. That's the normal mortality risk for a person in their 50s, but it gets worse when the points start adding up.

Here's the scorecard:

  • If you scored 1 point: Researchers estimate you have a 5 percent chance of dying within the next 10 years.
  • 2 points: 7 percent.
  • 3 points: 10 percent.
  • 4 points: 15 percent.
  • 5 points: 23 percent.
  • 6 points: 34 percent.
  • 7 points: 43 percent.
  • 8 points: 52 percent.
  • 9 points: 58 percent.
  • 10 points: 70 percent.
  • 11 points: 82 percent.
  • 12 points: 83 percent.
  • 13 points: 91 percent.
  • 14 points or more: 93 percent.

Remember – those numbers aren't meant to instill a fear of death in you. Instead, it's meant to help patients and health providers determine what sorts of treatments will be most beneficial. As Dr. Marisa Cruz, the study's first author, told HealthDay, none of these odds are set in stone.

Collectively (and statistically) speaking, 50-year-olds in South Los Angeles aren't poised to fare extraordinarily well on at least some parts of the Lee Index, given the region's landscape: Twelve percent of the adult population has diabetes, and an estimated 19 percent of the population smokes.

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