Contributed by: Mary Garrison, RN – Palliative Care Nursing, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center
When someone is nearing the end of their life, caregivers may begin asking the patient and loved ones how they feel about stopping aggressive treatments. These treatments are ones that are meant to prolong life, but sometimes have a serious impact on the quality of life. When this is the case, medical professionals, along with the patient and/or family members, may decide to place the patient on comfort care.
Comfort care is medical care that is focused on symptom relief and patient comfort. Comfort care does not seek to cure or treat an illness. This means that only measures to improve the patient’s comfort are carried out.
The Meaning of Comfort
Just as the word “comfort” can have many different meanings to people, comfort care in the hospital setting can mean many different things as well. Below are just a few examples.
Medical interventions that may be stopped, started or modified during the process:
- Lab draws and glucose
- Frequency of turning or repositioning
- Oxygen or BiPAP masks
- IV fluids or tube feedings
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Medications may be started if patient has pain, shortness of breath, restlessness or anxiety
- Medications such as vitamins and antibiotics may be stopped due to no benefit from the patient
Addressing or helping loved ones address worries or concerns of the patient.
- Are there loved ones the patient still wants to see or hear from before the end of their life?
- Do they have concerns about the care of the people, pets or possessions left behind?
- Do they have fears about reaching the end of their life?
Offering resources of spiritual support, including prayers and support from their priest, minister or church members.
What to Expect
When a patient is placed on comfort care, the patient and their family members and loved ones will notice the goal of everything done for them shifts to improving quality of life.
During that time, caregivers will work with the patient to control symptoms, such as pain and shortness of breath. Plans may be made with the patient, along with their decision maker.
Comfort Care Outside the Hospital
Many times comfort care can be provided outside the hospital. If the patient is stable enough, there may be plans for discharge. That’s especially true if the patient’s decision is to spend the last days of their life at home or another location. Discharge could be to their home or to a nursing facility.