Last week, a Bush family spokesperson announced that former first lady Barbara Bush would no longer seek medical treatment for her chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) and heart failure, opting instead for comfort care. If you found yourself wondering what the term “comfort care” means, you’re not alone.
Here’s a closer look at comfort care, who it’s for and how it can provide solace for patients and families facing a life-limiting illness.
What Is Comfort Care?
Comfort care is a form of specialized medical care that focuses on easing the symptoms of a disease as a patient nears the end of life. Like hospice care, comfort care may be administered when curative treatment is no longer an option, or when a patient decides to forego further treatment.
Patients can opt to receive comfort care in a hospital, in a specialized medical setting or in the comfort of home. A patient’s individual comfort care team may comprise his or her primary doctor, nurses, specialists and other care providers, all working together to provide relief from pain, discomfort and stress.
Sometimes, the services provided during comfort care extend beyond the medical. Emotional counseling, pet therapy, massage therapy and music therapy may all bring comfort and joy to an ailing patient. Spiritual guidance can be an instrumental component for people of faith, lending support and insight during a patient’s final journey.
Who is a Candidate for Comfort Care?
Any person, of any age, facing any life-limiting illness can receive comfort care. This may include cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Many doctors recommend this symptom-focused form of care in the early stages of a serious illness, when curative treatment is still possible. At this stage, it is called palliative care. Both comfort care and palliative care focus on easing discomfort and improving quality of life for the duration of disease or illness.
How is Comfort Care Paid For?
Comfort care services are typically covered under Medicare Part A, Medicaid and most private insurances, making it widely accessible. This benefit generally covers the care team’s services, medications, supplies and equipment related to a patient’s life-limiting illness.
There may still be co-pays, co-insurance or a deductible under insurance plans, but a patient’s individual comfort care team will work with the patient, family and insurance providers to ensure he or she receives all available benefits.
Why Is Comfort Care Important?
The compassion at the heart of comfort care is a special gift during these most challenging days of one’s life. With a comprehensive team of care professionals working together to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support, a patient is better able to approach his or her death with dignity, grace and peace of mind.
For some people with a long-term, incurable illness, the physical and emotional toll of treatment may at some point begin to outweigh the benefits. It’s one of the most difficult decisions many of us will ever have to face. But when that time comes, comfort care can take over from curative treatment to help patients live life as fully as possible until the end. Comfort care can provide relief for the family or caregivers of a terminally ill patient, freeing them up from the practical tasks of caregiving as well as the stress of seeing their loved one suffer.
Nothing can make death easy. But with the body and mind relieved of pain, stress and discomfort, ailing patients are better able to spend their final days enjoying the people and things that are most important in life.
If you would like to speak to someone at Florida Hospital about symptom management and care options during the final stages of an illness, please contact us at (855) 303-DOCS.