OBJECTIVES: To examine subjective ratings of quality of life (QoL) in older adults with advanced illness.
DESIGN: Observational cohort study with interviews at least every 4 months for up to 2 years conducted between December 1999 and December 2002.
SETTING: Participants' homes.
PARTICIPANTS: One hundred eighty-five community-dwelling individuals aged 60 and older with advanced cancer, heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
MEASUREMENTS: Participants were asked how they would rate their overall QoL.
RESULTS: Of participants who died, 46% reported good or best possible QoL at their final interview, 21% reported improvement in QoL from their penultimate to final interview, and 39% reported no change. Forty-nine percent of participants reported two or more changes in the direction of their QoL trajectories (e.g., QoL improved then declined). As measured over time in a multivariable longitudinal regression analysis, greater activity of daily living disability (adjusted odds ratio (AOR)=0.85, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.75–0.95) and depressed mood (AOR=0.42, 95%CI=0.27–0.66) were associated with poorer QoL, whereas better self-rated health (AOR=4.79, 95% CI=2.99–7.69) and having grown closer to one's church (AOR=1.99, 95% CI=1.17–3.39) were associated with better QoL.
CONCLUSION: Although declining QoL is not an inevitable consequence of advancing illness, individuals' ratings of QoL are highly variable over time, suggesting that temporary factors may influence subjective QoL. Functional status, depression, and connection to one's religious community are shared determinants of QoL.