What Is A Quality Life?

Often on these pages, we talk about working with your doctor to develop strategies for improving the overall quality of your life so you can live better and longer with COPD. This is a noble claim and it’s true. Still, rarely do we define what a quality life is. So, I thought it would be neat to take a look at, and define, what exactly we mean when we say “quality life.”

According to Merriam-Webster, “quality of life” is defined as “how good or bad a person’s life is.

They even gave an example that is similar to what we might say in this community: “The drug is used to improve the quality of life for patients who have chronic illnesses.

Our 2016 In America survey of 1,200 individuals living with COPD found that only 2% said their quality of life was unaffected by COPD. That means that 98% said their quality of life was affected to some degree. So, what is a quality of life?

A quality life is usually defined by the following “dimensions.” (1)

  • Emotional Functioning. You are able to experience appropriate feelings for a given situation in your life. For example, you feel sad when someone you love passes away, or you feel joy when a new baby is born. Other feelings you should experience at times are anger, surprise, disgust, and sadness. The goal here is to feel happy and content most of the time. (2)
  • Social Role Functioning. This is the “ability to develop, maintain, and nurture major social relationships.” You are able to maintain your social role at home and at work. You are able to function appropriately with family, extended family, friends, and acquaintances. (3)
  • Activities of Daily Living. These “are a series of basic activities performed by individuals on a daily basis necessary for independent living at home or in the community.” They include the ability to brush your teeth, bathe yourself, go to the bathroom, dress, cook for yourself, and walk from one area of your home to another. (4)
  • Recreational Pastimes. This is the ability to participate in activities that you enjoy, such as sewing, knitting, photography, reading, golfing, walking, etc. This is important because you’ll need to have something you do that you find fun, exciting, entertaining, and challenging to pass the time. I knew one person with COPD who whittled seats on old wooden chairs. I knew one lady who spent her days knitting afghans that she gave to nurses and respiratory therapists.

Various factors may impact your ability to enjoy these “dimensions” of life. These include. (5)

  • Physical Functioning. You are able to stay physically active. Of course, as the disease progresses, your ability to stay active may become increasingly difficult. For this reason, your doctor may discuss strategies for keeping you physically active, such as pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Psychological Factors. Studies show that patients who have a positive perception that what they are doing, or what they can do, will help them live better with this disease, have a better overall quality of life than those who have a grim view of their disease. (5)
  • Depression Symptoms. About 40% of those living with COPD experience depression.  In many cases, this is due to inactivity. Those living with the lowest levels of depression experienced higher levels of quality of life.

Strategies for improving your overall quality of life.

Quality of life should not only be measured by lung function, but by evaluating other factors as well. How do you perceive your disease? Are you experiencing signs of depression? Are you feeling dyspnea? Are you able to stay physically active? Do you have a hobby? Are you able to stay socially active? These are just some questions you may be asked at your doctor visits. These are important questions, and how you answer them, and how your doctor responds, may have a direct bearing on your overall quality of life.

You can live a quality life with COPD.  You can live a fulfilling life. This is something you will continue to hear over and over and over by healthcare professionals, by COPD experts like myself, and by people just like you who are living with it. It will probably entail working with your doctor, it may entail making some changes in your life. Yet you can still get plenty of joy out of this life even after getting a diagnosis of COPD.

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