Would you like to know when you are going to die? If the answer’s yes, you’re in luck – simply hop online to ubble.co.uk (the UK Longevity Explorer), answer a few simple questions and, voilà, scientists claim they can calculate your risk of dying in the next five years. But if your answer is a resounding “no, thanks all the same”, well done.
Why would anyone want this information? Death comes to us all but, for the most part, in order to keep functioning, to keep putting one stupid foot in front of the other, ad nauseam, we simply ignore this most inconvenient of facts. And, if ever pressed about how and when we wish to die, the answer is always roughly this: as old as possible, but fully in control of our faculties; painlessly, quickly, in our sleep, or while doing what we love: kitesurfing in a force 10 gale, making vigorous love to a supermodel 20 years our junior, or watching Made in Chelsea, for example.
Believing we know when we’re likely to die gives us an illusion of control that is completely false
The questionnaire, dubbed “the death test” by some tabloids, comes out of data from the UK Biobank. It scores 655 different measures that can affect the chances of premature death. The research is published in the Lancet, but the simplified survey, for 40- to 70-year-olds, steers clear of enquiring about weight, alcohol consumption and diet, and instead asks seemingly innocuous questions such as how briskly you walk and, for men, how many cars you own.
Why are we so interested in when we are going to die? There are some pros. It could definitely get you out of things that you didn’t want to do. Auntie Janet and Uncle Bob’s golden wedding anniversary? Ah, sorry, I’ll be dead then. Good for procrastinators. I mean, what is death really, other than a massive, looming deadline? There are some cons, however – the biggest one being the icy terror that would grip your soul and never let go, numbing you to the very core of your being. Rather than taking up kitesurfing or supermodel-shagging you’d likely end up curled in a foetal position, sobbing and waiting for the dreaded day to arrive.
Believing we know when we’re likely to die gives us the illusion of control over something that we have no control over whatsoever. People die haphazardly and suddenly – from the proverbial run-over-by-a-bus, to simply tripping and falling down in the street. The fact is, there is no magical test that can give us our date of death. I did the questionnaire twice. I don’t understand the rationale that asks men, but not women, how many cars they own and how many people they live with – and there are other anomalies. You are asked if you have had financial difficulties in the past two years. I don’t have any money, that’s for sure, but that seems normal, rather than a stressor.
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It’s also easy to skew the results. The first time, I scored a 2% risk of dying in the next five years. I got that down to 1.6% by rating my own general health as “good” rather than “fair”. It’s hard to be objective about your own health. But the latter question is, say the researchers, a better predictor of death for men than physical measures including blood pressure. The test has also been questioned by scientists from the University of Cambridge who say it reveals nothing about people’s long-term life expectancy or likely quality of life.
Moreover, I don’t need a test to tell me the biggest indicator of an early death for women aged 40-70: a previous diagnosis of cancer. As I may have mentioned before, I have had breast cancer (hence my “Ubble age” of 54, meaning I have the same risk of death as a 54-year-old, when I have, in fact, just turned 40. Cheers, Ubble). So I think I’ll forget about the test and, like the delusional human being that I am, look forward instead to a long and happy life. Kiteboarding optional.
source: the guardian