How the Medications in a Hospice Comfort Kit Can Help

Many patients and their loved ones have heard from hospice care professionals about the need to keep a hospice comfort kit in their homes in the event of an emergency, but they may not understand exactly what these kits are and why hospice staffers want them delivered to the homes of patients "just in case." If you're confused about what a hospice care kit is, get the facts on these kits with the details included in this overview.

nurse with female patient at home

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What Is a Hospice Care Kit?

The hospice comfort kit—also known as the emergency kit, e-kit or hospice kit—is a prescribed set of medications that are kept in a patient's home should a medical crisis strike. Having the medications already in your home will help the hospice team treat any distressing symptoms as quickly as possible.

The hospice comfort kit may be ordered and delivered to your home at the start of hospice care or anytime the case manager nurse sees a possible need for one. The actual contents of the kit vary. In some cases, it may be custom designed for the diagnosis, but this will vary widely among hospice agencies.

The most basic of hospice comfort kits contain medications for pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and breathing problems.

Medications that may be found in a hospice comfort kit and the symptoms they might treat include:

  • Morphine Liquid  Used to treat pain and shortness of breath
  • Ativan (Lorazepam)  Can be used to treat anxiety, nausea or insomnia
  • Atropine Drops  Used to treat wet respirations, also known as the death rattle
  • Levsin  An anticholinergic like atropine, also used to treat wet respirations
  • Haldol (Haloperidol)  Can treat agitation and terminal restlessness
  • Compazine (Prochlorperazine)  In either pill or rectal suppository form, this medication is used to treat nausea and vomiting
  • Phenergan (Promethazine)  An anti-emetic like Compazine, Phenergan is used to treat nausea and vomiting
  • Dulcolax suppositories (Bisacodyl)  Rectal suppositories to treat constipation
  • Senna  A plant-based laxative used to treat constipation
  • Fleet Enema  Used to treat constipation if other treatments are ineffective

Other medications may be included depending on the hospice diagnosis. For example, a patient with a brain tumor who is at risk for seizures may have valium suppositories included in his comfort kit.

In Closing

Your hospice nurse should explain each medication to you including the purpose and correct way to administer it. Some hospice agencies simply instruct their patients not to use any of the medications and then wait for a symptom to occur before explaining the medication.

This method of instruction has a major drawback because it requires the patient or caregiver to learn about a new medication under a great deal of stress, which is very difficult to do. If this is how your hospice agency instructed you, consider asking your case manager nurse to explain each medication to you before any symptoms actually occur. That way you can be prepared when and if symptoms do appear.

By Angela Morrow, RN
Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.