These seven tests you can do at home can help middle-aged people catch illness earlier and monitor their overall health.
As we get older bad habits can catch up with us, and we tend to worry more about health. If dementia runs in the family, for example, it’s easy to feel paranoid every time you lose your train of thought or forget someone’s name. You might be focused on another disease you see among friends and family.
Worriers unite: grab a friend or your spouse and try these seven tests at home. Some of them you can do alone, as well.
Stand up. You can test your likely lifespan simply by standing up from the floor, according to a 2012 study led Jonathan Myers, PhD, a health research scientist at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System and clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University. Myers’ team recruited more than 2,000 adults ages 51 to 80 and followed them for around six years, recording who died. The test: Sit cross-legged and barefoot on the floor, and rise to stand without using a hand, knee, or anything else for balance. You get a perfect score of 10 if you stand up without help. If you need to use your hand you lose a point, and if you need your hand and your knee, you lose two. Only 974 of the participants scored 8 to 10, Myers says. The test is a fast way to assess your fitness. Every extra point was linked with a 21 percent improvement in how long you’ll live. This makes sense if you realize that falls can be devastating for the elderly.
People who have trouble getting up need more exercise. Begin with 30 minutes a day of walking or add strength training.
Check your resting pulse. A good time to do this is in the morning, before you get out of bed. A normal adult pulse ranges from 60 to 90 beats a minute. An athlete might achieve 40. Beta blockers also lower your pulse. An unexplained consistently low pulse could be a sign of an underactive thyroid or a heart issue.
If your resting pulse is consistently fast or it moves up from under 70 to more than 85 over a decade, that’s potentially a bad sign. You may be at more risk of heart disease.
Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe or place two fingers on your wrist below the thumb. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four or count for a full minute.
Check your grip. A strong handshake may be a sign of good health as well as confidence. A weak grip is linked to an earlier death, disability later in life, and problems after surgery or hospital stays, some research shows. That’s why physical therapists check your grip with a hand-grip dynamometer, but you can get a good idea at home. Open a tight jar lid. Carry a gallon of liquid in one hand across the room. Use one hand to lift a heavy long-handled pan. If your grip is weak, you need to build your fitness with exercise and strength training.
Measure your waist. Being overweight or obese is linked to a long list of health risks. Apple-shaped people are in more trouble because abdominal fat increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Men, be concerned if your waist gets bigger than 40 inches; for women the cut-off is 35 inches. Standing up, place a tape measure around your body just above your hipbones, and don’t cheat by sucking in your breathe. Breathe out.
How fast you can walk predicts longevity, and a decline in your speed reflects health problems. More muscle is also a good thing.
Longevity experts look for patterns over time. Increasing your exercise and becoming stronger and faster are all good signs; if you’re thickening or slowing down, the fact that you were a jock in college may not help as much as you’d like.
Test how well you match names to faces. A relatively uncommon form of dementia called “primary progressive aphasia” usually affects adults ages 40 through 65. Test yourself by having your partner show you at least 10 photos of celebrities online or in a magazine while hiding their names. In one study, middle-aged people were more likely to have this kind of dementia if they were unable to name famous faces. If you have trouble with half of them, think about getting evaluated.
Test your sense of smell. Normal aging can cause your ability to smell to deteriorate, but people usually don’t lose the ability to smell peanut butter. That’s why a researcher created the peanut-butter test for Alzheimer's disease, which also affects smell, usually before memory problems show up. Close your eyes and hold your right nostril closed. Your partner should hold an open jar of peanut butter 12 inches away from your left nostril, and slowly move it closer until you catch the odor. Test your other nostril. In a 2013 study, people with early Alzheimer's had a harder time catching the smell in their left nostril than the right; the jar needed to be about 5 inches closer on average. If you see a big difference between your two nostrils, talk to your doctor.
If you’re worried about Parkinson’s. Catching Parkinson’s disease sooner can improve treatment. However, there aren’t any blood tests for Parkinson’s, so you’ll need to ask for a neurological exam if you’re concerned. Researchers are uncovering tell-tale signs you can see yourself. Do you ever talk or move strangely in your sleep, apparently in response to a dream? Have you been constipated for a month or longer? Has your sense of smell declined so much that you miss really strong odors like garlic? Three “yes” answers warrant a visit to the doctor.
March 31, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN