When the Physical Impairs the Mental

By: Tiffany Cloud-Mann, M.Ed.


Whether you are a caregiver for someone with a type of dementia or you are a parent, or you care for a loved one, any change in their normal personality or behaviors can be concerning. As someone educated in the mental health field and working with those with severe mental illness, I know the statistics are true. 1 in 5 adults will deal with mental illness. This may not be something that has to be monitored as closely like schizophrenia, but it could be an ongoing management of anxiety and/or depression. One factor in how we feel mentally is tied to how we feel physically. The concern I want to talk about today is how important it is to investigate physical ailments that could be contributing to your loved one’s mental and cognitive health. We must consider the whole person when we think about health. 

Maybe It’s Something Physical?


Vitamin deficiencies, hormonal changes, thyroid problems, urinary tract infections, constipation, or stomach issues, etc.; all these things can cause someone’s mental health to feel off balance. Check out some common aliments below, mentioned on WebMD. These ailments may cause your mood, personality, or behaviors to change. It’s important to mention that if it’s not a true cognitive change occurring, once the below ailments are addressed with medications or other therapies, the symptoms should subside. 

Urinary Tract InfectionsIn some people, especially those of advanced age, urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause a sudden onset of symptoms that look like Alzheimer’s. The individual may get confused, upset, sleepy, or have trouble paying attention. Some people hallucinate — believe they see or hear something no one else can see or hear. 

Vitamin Deficiencies – If you’re low on B12, you may feel lost or easily “get turned around.”

Thyroid Disease– The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. It makes hormones that help your organs work and control how well your body uses food for fuel. If your thyroid is working too fast or too slow, it can affect your mental health.

Diabetes- People with diabetes can have a difficult time keeping the right balance of insulin and blood sugar in their bloodstream. If your blood sugar levels drop too low, your body and brain don’t have enough fuel to work as they should. This is called hypoglycemia. If it’s severe, you can get confused doing even a basic daily task. You also can become clumsy, appear drunk, or even faint.

Medications– Many drugs — like antihistamines, anti-nausea medicine, steroids, and bladder relaxants — can cause symptoms that look like dementia. This is a greater risk for older people.



 My Journey

As a parent, I would like to share my own personal journey regarding my oldest son . Nearly a month ago, my nine-year-old started complaining of a stomachache. There were no outward symptoms and besides myself feeling a little icky too, I was having a hard time believing this was an actual stomach bug or the case of not wanting to go to school for some reason. Before knowing totally what was going on with him, I thought he was dealing with anxiety and maybe depression. His outward self was seeming anxious about going to school, he was turning down activities he enjoyed, and just didn’t seem himself. I was investigating every avenue from a bully at school, friend issues, or maybe the true onset of anxiety and depression. After further investigation with his pediatrician, his stomach “issues” were declared factual. The lining of his stomach was inflamed, both from the beginning “bug” and a period of eating too many spicy chips. He was also dealing with constipation, which was then pressing on the stomach lining, causing more discomfort. Finally, there was most likely some anxiety due to not feeling well. Very understandable. Meanwhile, I was on the sidelines waiting to call a therapist and wondering if school was going to be affected this second half of the year. I am a bit of a worrier, too, can you tell? The moral of this story is if your child or loved one begins not acting like themselves, before you rush to thinking mental illness or cognitive impairment may be present, investigate all physical areas first. Bottom line, when we don’t feel well, we don’t think well. Please note, if your loved one is dealing with cognitive impairment and seems to have progressed quickly, this could be a sign that something physical is bothering them and they just aren’t able to communicate that effectively to you. 

The last tip around this topic, if you don’t feel like a professional has investigated this well enough for you, get a second opinion. Medical and mental health professionals aren’t perfect; trust your gut and seek to find comfort with the prescription and assessment

Let’s Us Help You Figure This Out

As a Care Manager, I have become knowledgeable at being an investigator. I am constantly thinking about my client’s physical, emotional, and cognitive health. If my client is cognitively healthy and begins to show difficulty in this area, I begin thinking about their physical and emotional health. If they deal with cognitive changes and I see a quick progression, I am seeking additional information regarding their physical health. Caregiving, whether for an aging loved one, or a child, can be about investigating and advocating for more. Let us be those things for you and your loved one. Give us a call today to find out more! 


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