Patients dealing with a serious or long term illness often deal with a whirlwind of emotions. In addition to coming to terms with being ill, they often feel robbed of their dignity. Providing comfort care above the medical care that they require can give them back the dignity they feel they’ve lost.
Comfort care’s role in treatment
Giving dignity back to patients with comfort care can help them recover and feel better while they’re ill. While they still have to deal with the illness, it can fortify them to manage better and get through the challenge with their dignity intact, instead of breaking them.
How is it best to provide comfort care?
The foundation of effective comfort care is providing for the patient’s dignity. This involves finding out what their wishes are and respecting them as well as openly communicating and listening.
These are some examples of how the treatment team can ensure the patient’s dignity with a comfort care approach:
Talk to the patient – physicians sometimes talk to a patient’s family whether they’re in the room or note. If they are in the room, it can be very uncomfortable for the patient. Even if they’re not, it hurts the patient’s dignity to be closed out of a discussion that’s about his own care. If a patient is experiencing dementia, family has to get involved. If not, there’s no reason why a patient should be left out of the conversation.
Talk nicely to the patient – since he’s the expert, a physician may inadvertently talk down to a patient. Of course that’s demeaning, and it’s the doctor’s responsibility to remember that the patient is a person, perhaps many years older than the doctor, and should be spoken to with respect.
Let the patient make autonomous decisions – while the patient is alert and capable of making his own decisions, he should be allowed to. How he wants his room to look, what clothes he wants to wear, and so on. Ask him what kind of blanket he wants and whether he wants an extra pillow – don’t decide for his based on your own preferences.
Ensure the patient’s privacy – if the patient can’t take care of his own hygiene, respect his privacy while you assist him. When you bathe him, keep him covered and only uncover what’s necessary at each point. If he needs help with dressing, only touch or look at what you need to.
Help the patient with grooming – help the patient to look his best. Keep their nails cut, do their hair, apply makeup if it makes them happy.
Respect religious sensitivities – people have cultural differences, and they may have religious preferences that we should strive to respect. They may or may not want certain pictures in the room, or may want someone to help them pray in their dialect.
A central role in palliative and hospice care
Comfort care should play a role in the care of any ill patient at any level of treatment. However, at the end of life, it’s crucial to let the patient find a peaceful environment. He may also appreciate guidance on passing with dignity, and someone can help him arrange, if he chooses, a way to pass that’s comforting to him and protects his dignity.
At Hudson View Center for Rehabilitation in Bergen County, New Jersey, we strive to provide excellent comfort care to all of our patients at any stage of illness or recovery. Our warm and dedicated staff will work with each patient to hear what they need and try to make it happen.