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29.10.2015 | Review | Ausgabe 5/2016

Quality of Life Research 5/2016

Time and chronic illness: a narrative review

Quality of Life Research > Ausgabe 5/2016
Tanisha Jowsey



This narrative review is concerned with the ways in which the relationships between time and chronic illnesses have been chartered in recent literature. It aims to identify types of time (referred to here as temporal structures) most commonly reported in chronic illness literature and to assess their bearing on people’s lived experiences.


Literature searches of three electronic databases (Google Scholar, MEDLINE, and PubMed) were carried out in November 2014 of articles published between 1970 and 2013 using the following search terms (and derivatives): chronic illness AND time AND (patient OR carer). The review followed four procedural steps: (a) comprehensive search, (b) temporal structure appraisal, (c) synthesis of findings, and (d) critical appraisal.


Forty studies met the inclusion criteria and were included for review. Four types of called temporal structures had a strong presence in the literature: calendar and clocked time, biographical time, past–present–future time, and inner time and rhythms. The first three temporal structures are largely understood socially, and the fourth is predominantly understood in and through the body. Several studies reported more than one temporal structure as informing people’s chronic illness experiences. A wide array of chronic illnesses were represented in these studies. Few studies reported on the experiences of people with multi-morbid chronic illnesses.


Chronic illness induces new relationships to time. Drawing on Hyden (Sociol Health Illn 19(1):48–69, 1997), it is suggested that “narrative” storytelling—as a temporally informed analytic device—might prove effective for reconciling the tensions emergent from new and multiple relationships to time that chronic and multiple illnesses create. Opportunities exist for healthcare practitioners and health services to offer patients illness support that is cognisant of their relationships to time.

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