Comfort care is a term very commonly used between doctors themselves and between doctors and family to mean end-of-life care. When doctors are talking to patients about moving away from life-prolonging or curative therapies, they often discuss the alternative as comfort-focused therapies, hence the term, “comfort care.”
How is comfort care different from palliative care?
Comfort care is similar to palliative care in that it focuses on quality of life; however, palliative care is often accompanied by curative or therapeutic care and comfort care is not.
How is comfort care different from hospice care?
Comfort care is a part of hospice care, but hospice care is much more. Hospice care is an interdisciplinary team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s and family/inner circle’s wishes and needs. It can be provided in any setting. Hospice provides all medications, services, and equipment necessary. Hospice also offers bereavement care (grief support) to caregivers for up to 13 months after death. If you doctor suggests comfort care, it is important to ask if they are referring to hospice care.
Does comfort care mean no medical therapy?
Comfort care still involves medical therapy, and sometimes lots of medical therapy, but the goals of the therapy are different. Comfort care often implies that the person is reducing the intensity of medical care because the burden is outweighing the benefits. It also commonly means the individual recognizes that they are nearing the end of their life.
One way to think about it is to imagine where and how someone is spending their time and energy. Someone with heart failure may regularly spend time taking medications, taking their vital signs, having their blood drawn for testing, taking other tests, and visiting their doctor. Someone focusing on comfort care will spend the majority of their time at home with friends and family. They may call the important people home and take the opportunity to say goodbye without a lot of medical-related distractions.
How do I ask my doctor what they mean when they suggest comfort care?
Doctors, or anyone, can rarely forecast exactly how long someone will live, so they often don’t want to answer the question, “How long do I have (or they have)?” By asking it the other way around, the question becomes easier to answer.
- One way to ask what they mean is to ask, “Do you mean hospice care?”
- Another useful approach is to ask, “Would you be surprised if (name) died in six months?” or some other time period.