Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Predicting One's Demise
Every now and then I get an uncontrollable urge to write something about Death. I guess it’s just on my mind. This could be a function of reaching a certain age, but then I realize I was preoccupied with death when I was seven, also when I turned forty, and a bunch of other ages in between. When you’re seven, of course, it’s practically an eternity away, whereas when you reach seventy it doesn’t seem quite as far off. My interest in this admittedly morbid topic was sparked most recently when I read in the New York Times that researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have identified 16 measurement scales that can be used to scientifically determine “the likelihood of death within six months to five years in various older populations.” Not only did the Times report this breakthrough, but they provided the web-site address at which one could access the various scales and find out one’s own fate (www.ePrognosis.org). Needless to say, this peaked my curiosity. However, each time that I was on the verge of visiting ePrognosis.org, something in the back of my mind slowed me down. I wasn’t totally certain that I wanted to learn my prognosis. It seemed awfully concrete, even dangerous.
I put it off for a few days, but then I couldn’t stand it any longer. I do realize that everybody has to die at some time or another. And I guessed that nobody in human history has had a hundred percent probability of staying alive for the next five years. Even when I was only forty, I ventured to guess, I probably had about a 5 or 6 percent likelihood of dying in the next five years.
Steeling myself, I went to the web-site. They offered various scales for various subgroups in the older population: hospitalized patients, nursing home residents, the general community. I settled on the Schonberg Index, designed for people in the general community. On my first try, it asked if I were a health professional, and, when I said “no”, it blocked my entry into the scales. So then I started over again, lied about my health professional status, and then proceeded to answer a battery of questions. They were what you might guess: age, sex, smoking history, body-mass index, cancer, diabetes, recent hospitalizations, ability to carry out activities of Daily Living, etc. I responded as honestly as I could, knowing as I answered that my age, sex, and smoking history weren’t helping my prognosis. I got to the end, gritted my teeth, and pushed the “Submit” button.
When I opened my eyes, I was pleasantly surprised. The Schonberg Index said that my odds of dying in the next five years were 6%. These were exactly the same odds that I’d estimated I had at age forty. I decided I must be doing very well since my risk of mortality seems not to have changed since I entered middle age. I told Katja about the Schonberg scale, but she wasn’t interested. I was certain that she would receive a really good number if she completed the measure, definitely lower than mine, but she’s just not a numbers person. Oh well, knowing the odds doesn’t decide one’s fate anyway. But it did cheer me up, at least for a day or two.
-Linda K-C (11-8): I did the test too, with same results, and I've never smoked. But I feel very strongly that I won't really get very old, in fact I am surprised I have lived this long. Plus I find it repulsive to live so long people have to care for me. I think 80 is a good age to die, if you aren't sick before. 25% of health care is spent in last 6 months of life. That seem improper . I don't want to join that group. But I did take a fall last night , over my cat. So maybe that will be way I go out. Thanks for info.