Comfort Care: Definition, Benefits, and Symptoms Treated
Comfort care forms part of end-of-life care, and it focuses on difficulties through which both patients and their families are going. This type of service includes the approaches of both hospice and palliative care, and its primary goal is to help the patient live better during the time he/she has left and encourage their families to understand and accept the death.
People often decide to get comfort care when they want to control their symptoms, relieve pain, and improve their quality of life. It’s convenient for patients that have been hospitalized frequently during a short period of time and who don’t respond to their curative treatments anymore.
Comfort care is considered an essential part of medical care at the end of life, primarily because it can improve the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient. It also brings other valuable benefits described in the following post.
What is comfort care?
Comfort care is defined as a multidisciplinary approach that addresses every aspect of a person’s health status. It includes an experienced team of doctors, nurses, caregivers, social workers, and spiritual counselors that focus on a patient’s spiritual needs.
The main objective of comfort care is to reduce the physical suffering and pressure, emotional stress, and worry that often arise due to a severe illness. Apart from improving these aspects, comfort care helps with daily tasks and provides support for a patient’s family.
What are the Most Common Comfort Care Options?
Most health institutions and hospice centers offer comfort care program, which can be provided through the following programs:
- Hospice care is focused on providing comfort and end-of-life care for terminally ill patients who have six months or less left to live. Hospice can be provided at home or any inpatient facility, depending on the patient’s preferences and the stage of his/her disease.
- Palliative care is more or less similar to hospice, but it focuses more on helping people throughout a terminal illness, and not when their life is about to end, which is the case with hospice. Palliative care serves more as a complementary treatment, which you can use alongside with treatments you receive for curing your illness.
- In-home care: As its name says, in-home care is provided within the home, and it’s conducted by a licensed or unlicensed nursing company, or hospice and palliative organizations.
- In-home palliative care: Although palliative care is often provided in hospitals or nursing facilities, it can be conducted at home if the patient wants it, and if the circumstances allow it.
- Nursing home: Facilities such as nursing homes can offer comfort care. Skilled and professional staff is always there to help patients with physical care, such as toileting and bathing, as well as with emotional and spiritual concerns.
You should know that comfort care is not the same as hospice or palliative care, but it just shares some of its critical concepts with them. Let’s see why you shouldn’t confuse these terms:
- Comfort care vs hospice: Comfort care is a part of hospice, but the goal of hospice is to enhance comfort rather than provide life-sustaining treatments.
- Palliative care vs comfort care: Again, comfort care is a part of palliative care, which, unlike hospice, can be provided at any time, not only at the end of life. Comfort care is still a bit more advanced concept than palliative care, but it still includes pain control, spiritual care, and emotional support.
- In-home care vs comfort care: Many organizations that offer in-home care services aren’t usually equipped to provide spiritual and emotional support, which means that they may not be able to deliver adequate comfort care, which requires more than physical help.
However, comfort care can sometimes be seen as a synonym for hospice and palliative care. When used in hospice, it refers to optimizing a patient’s quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering. When it’s used as palliative care, it means that comfort care is more focused on improving the physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient.
What is Included in Comfort Care?
Comfort care is not only about enhancing a patient’s physical status but making sure their emotional and spiritual aspects are also addressed. Comfort care aims to help the patient feel more relaxed and get rid of medicines or habits that increase their levels of stress and anxiety. That said, you can expect the following actions:
Generally, all patients that feel the following symptoms can significantly benefit from comfort care:
- Problems with breathing
- Skin irritations
- Digestive problems
- Temperature sensitivity
Still, end of life comfort care is more focused on managing mental, emotional, and spiritual problems a patient might have. Signs of anxiety and depression are commonly a part of end-of-life crisis, and doctors may feel helpless when it comes to addressing such symptoms.
Comfort Care: Addressing Emotional and Mental Concerns
An experienced team of counselors that form part of the end of life care will encourage a patient to talk about his/her feelings and concerns. If the signs of depression or anxiety don’t cease, some medicines will be involved.
A dying person’s feelings are emphasized, which means that he/she might feel specific fears and concerns that might occupy his/her mind. For instance, they might feel worried about whether they’ll be alone at the very end, and such a feeling may be worsened by the reasonable actions of the family, friends, or medical team. Namely, they might stop visiting a patient when they don’t know what to say or what to do to help.
Thanks to comfort care, which is focused on relieving such issues, a patient may feel more comfortable and more relaxed. Counselors are trying to set a comforting mood by asking a patient what used to make them happy, and which environment would suit them the most. For example, some people enjoyed parties and family nights, which is why counselors might ask the patient’s families and friends to gather around their loved ones and be with him/her.
Music therapies are also a common way of making patients feel more relaxed. Namely, listening to music at a low volume in a room with soft lighting might improve mood, encourage relaxation, and lessen pain. Some people may even enjoy distracting noises that come from radios or TVs.
Comfort Care: Addressing Spiritual Needs
People that feel that the end is near might have some spiritual concerns, as important as their physical needs. Spiritual aspects often include finding meaning in one’s life and resolving disagreements with friends or family.
Talking to someone from a specific religious community (priest, minister, rabbi, or imam), reading sacred texts, or listening to religious music can also be an efficient way of bringing comfort to a patient’s last days. Such activities are particularly convenient for people that want to find peace in faith.
Another way of letting your loved ones know that they’ll always be valuable to them is by talking about the importance of their relationship. Adult children always express how their parents influenced the path of their lives, while grandchildren can speak with their grandparents and tell them how they made their childhood beautiful and unforgettable.
Family and friends have a massive impact on helping their loved ones feel comfortable and important at the end of their lives. End of life care centers will closely work with the patient’s friends and families and help them find the right words for letting their loved ones know how much they meant to them.
How Long Does Comfort Care Last?
You can start with comfort care at any time you find convenient. It doesn’t have to be six months before the death is expected, but a patient can decide to begin with it whenever he/she thinks that’s right.
However, if a patient wants to receive comfort care through hospice, he/she must be diagnosed with a terminal illness, and a doctor should note that he/she has six months or less to live. Therefore, such type of care may last about six months.
Palliative care, on the other hand, can be delivered without the six-month prognosis rule, and a patient can use it alongside his/her life-prolonging treatments.
What to Expect with Comfort Care?
Now that you know the most fundamental concepts of comfort care, you must be wondering what you can expect with comfort care and how exactly it looks. Both hospice and palliative care can be provided at home or inpatient facilities, depending on a person’s preferences and whether the treatment requires the use of specialized medical equipment (palliative care).
Some centers will create a set of orders for a patient’s caregiver, who’ll make sure a patient spends his/her last days as comfortable and peaceful as possible. Such orders will ensure a painless and quiet journey to some better place.
As a patient’s caregiver, you may expect the following:
- Doctors will give pain medications and anti-nausea medicines if that’s necessary. It can be done through the intravenous route, subcutaneous route, or even by mouth or skin patch. A patient may receive some meds that dry up secretions and ease breathing.
- A patient may be given meds for anxiety, restlessness, and confusion.
- No lab tests, needle pokes cardiac monitoring or any other test of vital signs.
- A patient is allowed to eat and drink everything he/she wants, including alcoholic beverages.
- If a patient can’t drink fluids, doctors and nurses will moisten their mouth with dabs of water to keep them from drying out. They can also count on eye drops if their eyes get dry.
- If your loved one is in an inpatient facility, you are allowed to bring them their favorite pet if it makes them feel comfortable and happy.
- You and your loved one can count on the help of the chaplain, who will provide emotional and spiritual support.
- Hospice and palliative care center is open for any questions and concerns you might have, and you shouldn’t hesitate to ask anything regarding the care of your loved one.