Learning that you or a loved one has a severe illness can be devastating. There may come a point when curative treatments are no longer effective, so families must confront end-of-life scenarios for their loved ones. You may come across different end-of-life care options, including hospice and comfort care. 

Comfort care is often a catch-all term to describe end-of-life care, whereas hospice care is a specific type of approach that provides holistic end-of-life support. Understanding the different care options can help you look after your loved ones with their preferences, values, and goals in mind.

Key takeaways:

  • Both comfort care and hospice care provide services to alleviate pain and make a person more comfortable during a serious or terminal illness. 

  • Hospice care is a holistic approach to care for end-of-life support. Comfort care aims to alleviate pain and improve quality of life for people with serious conditions, regardless of whether or not they are at the end-of-life stage. 

What is comfort care?

Comfort care focuses on relieving symptoms and improving the quality of life for people facing serious and terminal illnesses. Comfort care can still involve medical therapy, but the medical interventions aim to mitigate the pain rather than cure the illness. 

Some examples of comfort care services and interventions include:

  • Medications to relieve pain, nausea, digestive issues, and other symptoms 

  • Assistance with bathing, grooming, dressing, and using the bathroom

  • Stopping medical interventions that cause pain, such as blood draws and shots 

  • Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises 

  • Physical contact, like hand holding and gentle massages 

What is hospice care?

Hospice care also focuses on maintaining a patient's comfort and dignity and improving the quality of life for those with terminal illnesses. It involves a care team that tailors medical care, pain management, and emotional support to the needs of a patient and their family. People enrolled in Medicare can receive hospice care at no cost if their doctor determines they have less than six months to live. 

When hospice care begins, all curative treatments stop, and medical interventions focus on alleviating discomfort. The hospice team will provide any supplies, equipment, and medication necessary to support the person during hospice care. Hospice also offers bereavement support to caregivers after a loved one passes away. 

Some examples of hospice care services and interventions include:

  • Clergy or other counselors 

  • Coaches for caregivers on how to care for the patient

  • Speech and physical therapy if needed

  • Grief support for family and loved ones 

Key differences between comfort care and hospice care 

People often use the terms comfort care and hospice care interchangeably, but there are important differences between them. 

A key difference between hospice and comfort care is the services they provide. Comfort care is a part of hospice care, but hospice provides a larger scope of support for the patient. In addition to medical care, hospice also includes emotional, mental, and spiritual support for the patient and their loved ones. 

Along with provided services, the goals and focus of care also differs between comfort and hospice care. Comfort care focuses on alleviating symptoms and improving a person’s quality of life regardless of their prognosis, whereas hospice care specifically aims to provide comfort and support during the end-of-life stage.  

When you can start receiving support is another difference between hospice and comfort care. You can start comfort care at any stage of illness. This means that you can receive care for long periods of time or intermittently depending on your condition. Hospice care, on the other hand, begins once your doctor determines you have a terminal condition. You receive care continuously until the end of your life, generally for six months or less. 

Similarities between comfort care and hospice care

Comfort care is an essential aspect of hospice care. Both comfort care and hospice care prioritize your comfort and quality of life. Each approach aims to enhance your overall well-being. 

You can find hospice and comfort care services in various settings, including at home. Both are supportive services that include you and your family in the decision-making process with end-of-life care. You can tailor the care to match your and your family's needs and values, and you can discontinue either type of care at any time.

Benefits of each type of care for patients and families

Comfort care and hospice care can benefit patients and their families when dealing with severe health conditions.

Benefits of Comfort Care

  • Focused on symptom control, pain relief, and quality of life for a person

  • Can be initiated at any stage of illness, regardless of prognosis

  • Slow decrease of curative interventions 

  • Can be used intermittently throughout a condition

Benefits of Hospice Care

  • Large team that provides support for physical symptoms and emotional, social, and spiritual well-being

  • Provides end-of-life care for patients who have a life expectancy of six or less months

  • Hospice teams train loved ones on how to care for the patient 

  • Bereavement support for family and friends coping with the loss of their loved one

Comfort and hospice care are invaluable resources for those dealing with serious medical conditions. Sometimes, comfort care may transition into hospice care if the patient’s prognosis changes. Ultimately, the goal of both comfort care and hospice care is to provide dignity, comfort, and quality of life for patients during the end stages of their lives.

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