Nurses helping a comfort care patient

Comfort care is often used interchangeably with palliative care or hospice. All three terms refer to care that improves quality of life by relieving suffering and providing practical, emotional and spiritual support.

Comfort care is a holistic approach to addressing the medical and non-medical needs of people with a serious illness.

Comfort care also supports family members, especially family caregivers.

Medicare, VA benefits and private insurance plans most often use the more specific terms hospice or palliative care. People may also refer to comfort care to describe a broad range of support including home health, companion care, palliative and hospice.

What's the difference between hospice and palliative care?

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 a specific terminal condition. Their goal is managing pain and other symptoms to improve comfort and quality of life.

It’s a misconception that hospice patients don’t receive medical treatment of any kind. Hospice patients continue to be treated for health problems, but they make the decision to stop aggressive treatments specifically for a life-limiting illness. 

Hospice benefits from the Veterans Administration (PDF, 360 KB) sometimes enable people to continue receiving curative treatments for a terminal illness during hospice care.

Choosing a provider

Effective comfort care starts with clear conversations about goals and expectations; for both patients and their families. Be prepared with a written list of questions and concerns for your doctor and for potential care providers. Questions may include:

  • How are urgent care needs handled, especially on weekends?
  • How often will staff visit?
  • Do you help with care transitions?
  • Are services covered by Medicare or other insurance?
  • Are there out-of-pocket expenses?
  • Do you provide home medical equipment?
  • Are you accredited by an independent and reputable organization?

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.

How do you decide on comfort care?

Patients can make their wishes known years beforehand in a document called an advance directive or living will. A 2003 Hastings Center project reported that many people fear losing control, suffering in pain and being a burden on their families as they near the end of their lives. Advance care directives, palliative and hospice care provide a plan for greater dignity and independence, even when facing serious illness.

Talk to your doctor, family members and friends. Too often, people think talking end-of-life care is giving up. Comfort care is not about dying, it is about living as well as possible, for as long as possible.

If you still have questions about care, call us at 833-380-9583. We're here to help you make well-informed decisions.