How to Have a Difficult Conversation About Brain Illnesses

When you and your family enter the world of brain illness, whether you are dealing with a brain tumor or a diagnosis of dementia, you will have a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, much of the information you are receiving might fall into the category of "bad news" - anything that significantly alters your view of your life and plans in a negative way, whether that's learning of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or finding out that a malignant brain tumor is not going away after months of treatment.

Talking about bad news can be difficult, whether you are delivering the news or simply trying to cope with it.

Here are some tips for those difficult conversations:


A person receiving a terminal diagnosis might not want to know all the details. Whether you are the physician or a family member, try to find out how much information the person wants. Likewise, if you are the person receiving the diagnosis, know that it is OK to set limits about how much detail you want at any given time. You can always ask more questions later.

It also helps to know a bit about a person's support network and religious or spiritual beliefs so you can help them identify resources to draw on for assistance.

Finally, know the facts you will be discussing - or at least, prepare a list of questions to ask.