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Quality of Life in Older People


Richard W. Besdine

, MD, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

Last full review/revision Apr 2019| Content last modified Apr 2019
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Quality of life is often defined as a standard of health, comfort, and happiness and, as such, is highly personal. What one person views as quality life could vary widely with another person's. However, for many people, quality of life often revolves around health and health care options. For that reason, people and their doctors should consider the impact on quality of life when making decisions about medical issues.

Health-Related Quality of Life

How health affects quality of life depends on the person. Health-related quality of life has multiple dimensions, including the following:

  • Preventing uncomfortable symptoms (such as pain, shortness of breath, nausea, constipation)

  • Feeling emotionally healthy

  • Being able to do typical activities involved in daily life (such as bathing, dressing, and toileting)

  • Maintaining close interpersonal relationships with friends and family

  • Enjoying social activities

  • Feeling satisfied with the medical and financial aspects of health care

  • Having a healthy body image and sexuality (including intimate relationships)

Some of the factors that influence health-related quality of life (such as mental impairment, disability, chronic pain, and social isolation) may be obvious to people and their doctors. For example, most people think avoiding or managing chronic pain is important to maintaining a high quality of life. Other influences may not be obviously connected to health care, such as the quality of close relationships, cultural influences, religion, spirituality, personal values, and a person's previous experiences with health care. How some factors affect quality of life cannot necessarily be predicted. In addition, some factors that end up affecting quality of life may not even have been anticipated.

Also, perspectives on quality of life can change with circumstances. For example, people who have suffered a stroke that caused severe disability may choose to sustain a quality of life that, before the stroke, they would have considered poor or even unacceptable.

Communicating with Health Care Practitioners

People should talk to their doctors and other health care practitioners about their quality of life and how their health issues impact their life. Doctors should listen carefully to determine the person's health care goals Defining goals People and their doctors must make many decisions about medical issues. People must decide whether and when to see a doctor. Doctors and other primary care practitioners (PCPs) must decide what... read more and preferences. Even people with mild dementia or cognitive impairment can make their preferences known when doctors use simple explanations and questions. Having family members present when discussing the preferences of a person with cognitive impairment may be helpful.

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