How do you define quality of life? Odds are the definition might be different for every resident of Manchester and elsewhere. But it is something that is important to everyone, including those receiving end-of-life care. Does it mean feeling good mentally or physically? Does it mean laughing and smiling more?
Turns out the answer is a combination of “all of the above” and “none of the above.”
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice wants to find out this definition for all of our clients. This means learning what the term means to each person and their family, and what needs to happen for them to get there. Maybe it is living with less pain. Maybe it is finding the right balance of medication to keep them lucid but comfortable. Maybe it’s encouraging them to laugh, exercise, or focus on the positive.
But first, we should explain some of the generally accepted definitions, even though people like to create their own.
The National Cancer Institute defines quality of life as “The overall enjoyment of life.” In a cancer context, the institute tries to measure each patient’s sense of well-being and ability to carry out daily activities. If they’re in too much pain, too influenced by medication, or having mental challenges, they may not be able to focus on their happiness or daily tasks and activities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls quality of life a “broad multidimensional concept that includes subjective evaluations of both positive and negative aspects of life.” These terms and values can apply to all areas of life, not just health, but employment, education, relationships, and interacting with your culture. But health does take priority, since you may not be able to achieve some of these other items if you’re unable to get out of the house, or even out of bed.
More complex definitions have been under discussion since the late 1940s when the World Health Organization invited many medical professionals from around the world to share their input for a broader, more common definition of “good health and general well-being” that can be agreed upon in different languages and cultures. Common definitions could be useful for healthcare providers who are evaluating patients, as well as patients when trying to describe the impact of their health on their general life and livelihood.
People working on this collective definition also split the definition into two contexts: the individual and what they’re experiencing health-wise, and what they’re feeling as a fellow member of their local community and society.
In the latter definition, it included metrics like “focus on the environment” and “focus on the greater social good,” which are less important at the individual level.
Today, the accepted definitions look at a series of metrics including physical health, social health, emotional function, and general attitudes to illness/health condition. This also combines with what someone experiences in their daily life, which could be everything from being surrounded by caring friends and family to feeling lonely and isolated. Quality of life can include the cost of their health condition, which could be financial or emotional.
Achieving quality of life
Now that you can see how individualized quality of life can be, the next question is how to achieve it, especially if you’re dealing with a difficult health or life situation, including hospice care.
- Pain management. If something hurts badly and keeps you from doing the things you like, your quality of life can be affected. As we age, we notice “wear and tear” more that aspirin doesn’t touch. Maybe our knees, hips, or other joints hurt so much that we can’t perform as well athletically as we did in the past. Maybe an old injury still hurts and limits our ability to run or even walk. Our preferred healthcare provider can learn what we are no longer able to do and suggest options, everything from medication to physical therapy to surgery. A knee replacement surgery, for instance, can be difficult to go through and recover from, but many people say it helps them be more active again and regain the ability to do activities they once loved.
- General outlook. Studies of different cultures and ages show those with a more positive outlook on life and general flexibility can make a big difference in dealing with the various ups and downs that happen in life. You don’t have to be happy all the time, but whatever your age, you can try to look for ways to find happiness and joy, even if it’s in small quantities at first.
- Physical health. There are a lot of reasons that providers suggest exercise since it can have benefits for the mind and the body. It can produce endorphins which are natural painkillers that can boost your mood. Someone who isn’t able to do exercise or isn’t willing to do so may find that it becomes harder and harder to go outside and their strength, flexibility, and endurance can suffer.
If you’re interested in learning more, January is considered International Quality of Life Month. The unofficial holiday encourages people take steps to improve their life throughout the year. Even if you don’t have the energy to do a massive life reboot, you can still work on one or two smaller ways to make things better.