People sometimes need extra support when facing serious illness. Patients and their doctors often focus on curing or managing disease. A cure is always the ideal goal. But sometimes symptoms or side effects can make life miserable. Comfort care includes an intensive relief of symptoms, help navigating the medical system, emotional support and other services to improve quality of life.
Comfort care is often used interchangeably with palliative care or hospice. All three terms refer to care provided to patients and their families to improve quality of life by meeting physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Palliative care is for people at any stage in their illness. The illness does not have to be life-threatening. Palliative care patients can still receive treatments to cure illness.
Hospice patients are not seeking a cure for their illness. Their goal is managing pain and other symptoms to improve comfort and quality of life.
It’s a common misconception that hospice patients don’t receive medical treatment of any kind. Hospice patients are treated for their health problems, but they make the decision to stop aggressive treatments, specifically for their life-limiting illness.
Hospice benefits from the Veterans Administration (PDF, 300 KB) sometimes enable hospice patients to continue receiving currative treatments.
Effective comfort care starts with clear conversations about goals and priorities. For example, people experience pain differently. Doctors and family must listen and continue to ask questions to find the right level of pain relief.
Most comfort care includes support for families. Caring for a sick family member can be stressful and confusing. Comfort care includes caregiver education and practical support, such as home health aides.
Some of the most common medical conditions for comfort care patients include cancer, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke and Alzheimer's disease.
Patients can also make their wishes known years beforehand in a document called an advance directive or living will.