Many of us had never heard of the term “comfort care” until 2018, when Former First Lady Barbara Bush shone a light on the term and some of the meanings. Suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure at the time, the family announced that she would be focusing on comfort care going forward.
This announcement was coupled with a statement that she would not be seeking additional medical treatment for her ailments. Does this mean that comfort care is the same as hospice or end-of-life care? And what about palliative care? What do all these terms mean? Are they different, and if so, how?
Palliative care, hospice care and comfort care
Often we aren’t familiar with these terms and what the differences are unless we enter into the situation in which we need to know, or are a caregiver ourselves. So why so many different terms and what do they all mean?
Palliative care is the term used when a patient is managing a serious illness such as cancer, heart failure or advanced Parkinson’s disease. It’s used alongside of treatments that are intended to cure the medical issue. Palliative care is best applied at the beginning stages of disease management.
Hospice care is what is brought in at the end stages of a serious or terminal disease, that cannot be recovered from. In the event that a disease becomes terminal or a patient decides to stop undergoing treatments, palliative care is brought in to focus on the quality of life for the patient. As in palliative care, the main focus is comfort and quality of life for the patient, but with hospice care, there are no further attempts to cure the disease.
According to mmLearn, “…unlike hospice care, comfort care does not mean patients have less than six months to live and/or extremely poor prognosis. Nor does it mean they’ve decided to end all medical treatment…Essentially when patients elect comfort care, they’re electing aggressive measures in terms of symptom control. It may be treatment for pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and so on. It also includes the location of care, so where the patient prefers, such as at home. But by all means, comfort care is medical care.”
What takes place during comfort care?
Comfort care can encompass many different ‘prongs’ of care based on the below needs:
- Emotional support
- Physical pain management/therapy
- Mental health needs
- Spiritual support
Emotional support This is an important time in a patient’s life to get emotional support from their friends and family members. This may also mean bringing in a qualified homecare professional to serve in a homemaker capacity and as an added companion.
Physical pain management Of course during this time, pain management is assessed and a plan of action is determined by the patient, family and the doctor. There may be decisions on different medications or treatments, based on the level of physical comfort they provide the patient.
Mental health needs We know that pain, especially chronic pain can have a direct impact on depression (see 4 Important Insights Into Chronic Pain). Speaking with mental health professionals and alternative health care professionals (such as mind-body specialists, wellness professionals and holistic care professionals) may provide much needed mental health support.
Spiritual support This may be the time to work with ministers, clergy or members of religious organization to be sure that the patient is receiving the appropriate and wanted spiritual support. Spiritual needs may become more important as the body is in pain and distress and spiritual support is an important part of quality of life.
The terms can be confusing indeed, but knowing which type of care you or your loved one wants will best help in communicating and achieving the quality of life they deserve. At all times.
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