Developing attributes for a generic quality of life measure for older people: preferences or capabilities?

Soc Sci Med. 2006 Apr;62(8):1891-901. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.08.023. Epub 2005 Sep 15.


Current UK policy with respect to the provision of health and social care for older people suggests that greater integration is required. Economists' attempts to assist resource allocation decisions, however, are very health focused, with concentration on the use of health-related quality of life measures. This paper reports an attempt to determine attributes for a new index clearly focusing on quality of life for older people rather than health or other influences on quality of life. In-depth interviews were conducted with 40 purposively selected informants aged 65 and over in private households to explore their views about what is important to them in terms of quality of life. Data were analysed using Framework qualitative analysis. Initial discussions tended to concentrate upon factors influencing quality of life including activities, relationships, health, wealth and surroundings. Further probing and analysis suggested five conceptual attributes: attachment, role, enjoyment, security and control. The data also suggested that the quality of informants' lives was limited by the loss of ability to pursue these attributes. So, for example, it is not poor health in itself, which reduces quality of life, but the influence of that poor health upon each informant's ability to, say, be independent, that is important. Amartya Sen's work on functioning and capability is particularly pertinent here. Using this work, it is possible to interpret the five conceptual attributes as a set of functionings-important for older people in the UK in the 21st century-but noting that it is the capacity to achieve these functionings that appears to be of importance. This suggests that further development of this measure should focus on an index of capability rather than preference-based utility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Choice Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Quality of Life*
  • United Kingdom