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How Many Healthy and Able Years Do You Have Left?

University of Washington School of Public Health Offers a Healthy Life Calculator

Apr 1, 2016, 3:50 p.m.
Retired University of Washington Professor, Dr. Paula Diehr helped design a "Healthy Life Calculator" to answer her own question about how many able years she has left

Want to know how many healthy years you have left if you are 65 or older? Faculty at the University of Washington School of Public Health have created an online calculator to help you figure it out.

“I’m a retired professor at University of Washington,” said Paula Diehr, Ph.D, who led the research team on this project. “After retirement, I decided I needed an estimate of the number of ‘good’ years that I have left. I’m a biostatistician and I had access to data, so I was able to create a ‘healthy life calculator.’ I used it to answer my own question of whether I would likely still be healthy and able at age 80. Creating the on-line calculator is also the first time I’ve worked professionally with my son, who is second author of the study.”

The algorithm is based on data from the longitudinal, multi-site, federally-funded Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), led by the Collaborative Health Studies Coordinating Center at the UW. The study collected extensive health information on its almost 6,000 participants for more than 20 years. For each person, the number of years in which they reported excellent, very good or good health, and the number when they were able to perform all the activities of daily living – such as walking, dressing, eating – without difficulty were calculated from the CHS database. At the beginning of the study, the participants ranged in age from 65 to 99 years; the average was 73.

The researchers used the data to develop a “healthy life calculator” that can help predict the number of Healthy and Able years a person has remaining if they are at least 65 years old. The questions in the calculator are based on the predictors in the study that could be assessed by questionnaire and that were most closely correlated with self-reported health and independent living in old age.

CHS participants did not include those who, at the beginning of the study, used a wheelchair at home, were being treated for cancer, or who were unable to answer questions without assistance. And the results are based on averages. Not everyone will have an average result, and personal situations can differ.

Said Dr. Alice Arnold, associate director of the coordinating center, “There are several calculators available to estimate years of life. What is unique about our calculator is the ability to estimate remaining years of life in good health and without a limitation that typically compromises independent living.”

“We put a lot of effort into making this calculator useful for the general population of seniors,” said Dr. Diehr. “We hope it will be widely used and that it will help them plan for their futures.”

Dr. Diehr, who is 74 and still living in a two-story house, used the calculator herself. “Many of my friends have already downsized to more senior-friendly accommodations. I figure that if I’m still healthy and able at age 80, I can avoid such a move until then. Will I still be healthy and able at age 80, six years from now? The Healthy Life Calculator says that people like me have an additional 9.7 years of healthy and able life, which sounds like plenty. It also says that only 17% have fewer than five additional years. This gives me about an 83% chance of having six or more years of healthy and able life ahead of me, which seems good enough. So I will just procrastinate until I’m 80. The calculator helped me make a decision, and I hope it will be useful for others as well.”

The calculator can be found at http:// healthylifecalculator.org. The study, published in Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine, is available at ggm.sagepub.com/ content/1/2333721415605989.full.pdf+html

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