Many governments across Europe and America set maintaining the quality of life (QoL) of older people living in long-term care as a key policy objective; however, much of the evidence reveals that life in many care environments is still routinized and institutionalized. QoL is a term that is widely used but poorly defined and understood. The focus of this Review is on identifying the components of QoL and reviewing strategies for improving QoL in long-term care. Six components of QoL were consistently identified across studies: autonomy, environment, connectedness, meaningful activity, independence and sense of self. A review of strategies for improving QoL revealed that the evidence of effectiveness across studies remains inconclusive. The judgment of quality was often hampered by inadequate details on the study design and the use of nonspecific and wide-ranging QoL tools. Furthermore, high-quality studies are required to determine effectiveness.