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Does Comfort Mean Giving Up Treatment?

You may have read in the news that former First Lady Barbara Bush decided to forego medical treatment in favor of comfort care. But some of the headlines are misleading. With comfort care—which includes hospice and palliative care—patients continue to receive medical treatment, but the goal of the treatment shifts from curing the disease to relieving pain and symptoms and allowing death to occur naturally.

comfort care
Gilchrist Palliative Care Manager Tracie Morgan is interviewed on Baltimore’s FOX45 by reporter Sean Sullivan.

For example with comfort care, a patient who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which Barbara Bush had, may receive oxygen for shortness of breath and medication for pain. In addition to medical treatment, the patient and family will receive care focused on their emotional, social and spiritual needs. Patients are often treated at home rather than in a hospital, as was the case for Barbara Bush. Care may also be provided in a residential care community or hospice center.

Making health care decisions—as the former first lady has done—about what kind of care you want in the event of serious illness can help ensure your wishes are carried out in the event that you are no longer able to make decisions. Such decisions may include whether or not you want CPR, a breathing machine, or other interventions which may be painful, result in hospitalization and offer little benefit.

At Gilchrist, palliative care specialists are trained to help patients understand the likely progression of their illness, review their treatment options and determine their health care wishes, which may include comfort care. Palliative care can be provided at any point in the course of an illness.

Hospice care, on the other hand, begins when a patient is expected to live six months or less. Both hospice and palliative care can help improve quality of life for those with serious illness.

“The decision to choose hospice or palliative care does not mean giving up,” says Cathy Hamel, president of Gilchrist. “Instead, it can help people live their lives to the fullest—in comfort rather than pain and spending precious moments with loved ones at home instead of in the hospital.”

Tracie Morgan was interviewed on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 on Baltimore’s FOX45 and discussed what Palliative Care is. Visit Gilchrist’s Top Stories page to watch the full interview here

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