What is Quality of life?

Posted On 11/1/2018

“Quality of life” has quickly become a catch-all term, but confusion over what it actually means could have serious negative consequences according to some recent research.

Once a term largely used by health-care professionals; now everyone from economists and advertising executives care about offering good “quality of life.” But what does it mean, and how can businesses, as well as physicians, help to improve it, if nobody can clearly define what it is?

A Matter of Life and Death

As medical advances have helped to increase longevity, our focus has shifted from the quantity to the quality of life.

“Quality of life” is subjective and multidimensional, encompassing positive and negative features of life. It’s a dynamic condition that responds to life events: A job loss, illness or other upheavals can change one’s definition of “quality of life” rather quickly and dramatically.

Even though measuring it is difficult, clarity is extremely important, especially for medical practitioners, who often take “quality of life” into account when considering whether life-sustaining medical intervention should be withheld for severely disabled or ill patients. As such, coming up with a distinct definition is ethically important, and not just a case of splitting hairs.

The Search for a Definition

An analysis of scientific papers over the past 20 years shows that a precise, clear and shared definition is a long way off. Often researchers don’t even attempt to define the concept, using it instead as an indicator. Among the observations made about “quality of life” is that it encompasses:

  • Life satisfaction, which is subjective and may fluctuate.
  • Multidimensional factors that include everything from physical health, psychological state, level of independence, family, education, wealth, religious beliefs, a sense of optimism, local services and transport, employment, social relationships, housing and the environment.
  • Cultural perspectives, values, personal expectations and goals of what we want from life.
  • Not just the absence of disease but the presence of physical, mental and social well-being.
  • Our interpretation of facts and events, which helps to explain why some disabled people can report an excellent “quality of life” while others can’t.
  • Our level of acceptance of our current condition, and our ability to regulate negative thoughts and emotions about that condition.

As it stands, the confusion over what “quality of life” means does little to help professionals in any field, and could have serious ethical consequences.