Planning for the future would be easier if we knew how long we will live and, more importantly, how many years we will be healthy and able to enjoy it. There are few well-documented aids for predicting our future health. We attempted to meet this need for persons 65 years of age and older.
Data came from the Cardiovascular Health Study, a large longitudinal study of older adults that began in 1990. Years of life (YOL) were defined by measuring time to death. Years of healthy life (YHL) were defined by an annual question about self-rated health, and years of able life (YABL) by questions about activities of daily living. Years of healthy and able life (YHABL) were the number of years the person was both Healthy and Able. We created prediction equations for YOL, YHL, YABL, and YHABL based on the demographic and health characteristics that best predicted outcomes. Internal and external validity were assessed. The resulting CHS Healthy Life Calculator (CHSHLC) was created and underwent three waves of beta testing.
A regression equation based on 11 variables accounted for about 40% of the variability for each outcome. Internal validity was excellent, and external validity was satisfactory. As an example, a very healthy 70-year-old woman might expect an additional 20 YOL, 16.8 YHL, 16.5 YABL, and 14.2 YHABL. The CHSHLC also provides the percent in the sample who differed by more than 5 years from the estimate, to remind the user of variability.
The CHSHLC is currently the only available calculator for YHL, YABL, and YHABL. It may have limitations if today’s users have better prospects for health than persons in 1990. But the external validity results were encouraging. The remaining variability is substantial, but this is one of the few calculators that describes the possible accuracy of the estimates.
The CHSHLC, currently at http://diehr.com/paula/healthspan, meets the need for a straightforward and well-documented estimate of future years of healthy and able life that older adults can use in planning for the future.
Diehr, Paula; Diehr, Michael; Arnold, Alice M.; Yee, Laura; Odden, Michelle C.; Hirsch, Calvin H.; Thielke, Stephen; Psaty, Bruce; Johnson, W Craig; Kizer, Jorge; and Newman, Anne B., "Predicting Future Years of Life, Health, and Functional Ability: A Healthy Life Calculator for Older Adults" (May 2015). UW Biostatistics Working Paper Series. Working Paper 407.