EPISODE 27 -Caregiver support with Mental Health America of MidSouth – April 1, 2023


It is time to care for the caregiver! Listen as Bart, the host of the Vista Points podcast named Choose Your Path, interviews Lynn with Mental Health America of MidSouth and Darlene with Vista Points as they address serving caregivers – specifically those who serve loved ones living with dementia. Resources, support, stories and special needs trusts are discussed.


Greetings from our Middle Tennessee studio…and welcome to today’s Vista Points podcast, “Choose Your Path”, where the Vista Points’ staff are committed to improving the quality of life for people of any age, who are living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability.

I’m Bart, your podcast host. My role is to walk with you on this journey of discovering and using special needs trusts. In previous episodes, we introduced special needs trusts, what they are, stories of people, how they use special needs trusts, and how it impacted their lives. In case you’re new to our podcast, I invite you to refer to past episodes which can be found on the Vista Points website and on YouTube.

Last month, we brought attention to self-care through our podcast episodes. Now, we are continuing our focus on health – specifically, mental health. Hopefully each of us recognizes the need to pay attention to our own mental health – but we should also support others in their mental health journey – no matter who it is, what age or what phase in life they are in. 

Today, we are fortunate to interview Lynn Wood with Mental Health America of MidSouth.  Lynn is a Certified Dementia Specialist. She provides caregiver support and is a coordinator.  Lynn will answer a few questions and share resources with us about the journey of mental health as it relates to dementia.

Bart: Hello, Lynn. Thank you for joining us today.

Lynn: Thank you, Bart. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Bart: I understand you are the Caregiver Support Coordinator for Mental Health America of the MidSouth. The organization is an incredible resource, for people in Middle Tennessee. First though, would you tell us a little about yourself and your role with the organization? 

Lynn: Oh, I would be happy to. I have worked with older adults in many different areas. I started in doctor’s offices and skilled nursing rehabs, and then assisted living. What I’ve found is, I was working with a lot of families that were making decisions – long-term care decisions – during an urgent need and an emotional time. The journey of Alzheimer’s and dementia is one that can be long one and ever changing. So, I believe it is best that we be prepared for all the “what if’s” and let’s hope that they never happen. But if they do, then my goal is to help the family be prepared and have a plan that’s ready to enact at a moment’s notice.

Bart: Thank you for sharing this information, Lynn. Tell me, what makes Mental Health America of the MidSouth special for the clients you interact with and for you?

Lynn: Well, I am very proud to say that my program is 100% funded by grants. So what this means is I can offer my trainings, resources, time, materials to families at no cost to them. The second reason that I think my program is special is there’s are a lot of things, and a lot of people out there working with the person who has the dementia diagnosis. But, I work strictly for the caregiver. So, I say, the caregiver cares for their person, let me care for the caregiver.

Bart: That’s interesting. It tells me a lot about you. I’ve heard of others referring to it as mental illness rather than mental health. Would you explain what your Mental Health America considers as the difference? I want our listeners to understand this.

Lynn: This is a great question, and I appreciate it so much. Things like bipolar, schizophrenia, hoarding, anxiety and depression – those are classified as a mental illness. Those are diagnoses that the doctor can assign to someone and then start treatment. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. So, it affects how we think, and feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices within our lives.

Bart: Well, that makes sense. I’m glad you clarified that for us. I remember, when we met about a year ago, at an event, you said you work with families who have a loved one living with dementia. What exactly do you do for the people and the families?

Lynn: Well, my job is to help the caregiver, the family caregiver, to truly understand what a diagnosis of a dementia means. Then that family and I, we sit down and explore how the dementia is changing the person. And, then I work with the caregiver on how they can respond and redirect their loved one. Learning some of the basics and why something is happening to someone, that can go a long way in combating caregiver stress and caregiver burnout. And, that’s the basic jist of my job, that’s the real nut and bolts of it.

Bart: Thank you, Lynn. Do you have an example of serving someone with dementia that you could share with us? I think it would help our listeners to understand just how important and how helpful your position is for so many people.

Lynn: Well, I’d like to. Again, I just want to reference to your listeners, that my services are for the caregiver, the one proving the care. But, an example would be, that I recently met with a family caregiver who was in a habit of over-explaining things to her loved one. She used a lot of nouns and pronouns and adjectives. Once I explained that the loved one’s brain was no longer able to handle and process of the “extras” that she was including, she found that on limiting instructions and just being “less is more” or maybe giving her loved one two choices on what to eat or what to wear. The interaction was much smoother and less stressful, and the person who was living with the dementia knew more what the caregiver wanted from them. So it just made the who quality of life experience much better and easier to deal with at that time.

Bart: Wow, you have such a special job.  And on a similar note, will you share a story of you or Mental Health America serving a caregiver who’s caring for someone who has dementia?

Lynn: Oh, I would love to. I have tons of stories. And, one recently was a family. They were considering having to move their loved one into an assisted living environment. The father would turn on the water in the sink, but not remember to turn it off, which is short-term memory loss. But, this would cause some flooding in the home, in the bathroom. And the wife was constantly having to clean up this mess and replace carpets and flooring and stuff like that. So, she, they were at their wit’s end, this family. And, my suggestion was to install an automatic water faucet in the bathroom. So, we see these sometimes in Walmart or Target where you put your hand under the faucet and the water turns on. And then when you remove your hands, the water turns off automatically. So, they installed this. It was relatively inexpensive to do. And, no more flooding! So, they didn’t have to go ahead and pull the trigger on moving their loved one into a home, into an assisted living community, at this point. The gentleman could stay at home. But, this issue was now solved for a quality of life. And, I think with my stories, I come in and see the situation from a different perspective. So, sometimes I can add some common sense, strategic plans that are hard when you’re in the middle of living with the flood, if you understand what I’m saying.

Bart: Yeah, I think that’s fantastic, Lynn. But tell me, your title includes “Coordinator”.  And, exactly what does that mean? What is your role as a Coordinator?

Lynn: Well, I’ve started telling the families that I work with to think of me as their personal “Dementia Google”. There are a lot of resources out there in Middle TN, but some of them can be very hard to find. I don’t my families calling an 800- number when I can make a personal introduction between a family that’s needing even perhaps Vista Points assistance. Thataway, I can make that personal connection between my families and your families. I don’t coordinate anyone’s care really. I just help the family find the resources that they’re needing and putting those plans right at their hands just kinda helps them navigate the journey and one less thing that they try to remember to figure out. I kind of do that figuring for them.

Bart: Yeah, I think that’d be nice to have that Google icon that says “Dementia Google.”

Lynn: Oh, thank you!

Bart: Thanks so much, Lynn. This is valuable information. You are providing our listeners with such great resources for dementia. Would you tell us the best ways to contact you or find out more about Mental Health America of the MidSouth?

Lynn: Well, I’m excited to say we have just rolled out our brand new website. It’s had, gone through about six months of redecoration. I’m not sure that’s what you call it. But, I encourage everyone to visit at www.mhamidsouth.org. If you’re are a caregiver of someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s dementia, you can contact me directly at 615-434-2710 or lwood@mhamidsouth.org. That’s how you find me!

Bart: Great. Lynn, would you give me that phone number again? I don’t write very fast sometimes.

Lynn: Thank you. I talk fast. So, i’s 615-343- – oh, that’s actually wrong, Bart! It’s 615-434-2710. Let me try that one again. 615-434-2710. That’s how you find me!

Bart: Thank you again, Lynn. And now we’re gonna move to our new segment, Ask the Expert. Ms. Darlene Kemp is a Tennessee expert on special needs trusts. She’s here to answer questions asked by our podcast listeners.

Bart: Darlene, it’s good to see you today. 

Darlene: Hi, Bart. I’m glad to be here today. And, boy, Lynn really shared some interesting information, didn’t she?

Bart: Yes, she does. And, I’m glad she’s been here. Learning about dementia and services provided by Mental Health America of the MidSouth is great.

I understand a few people, when talking with Vista Points staff on the phone, have shared strong comments about dementia and its effect on the family. How do you answer those who say, “My mom’s dementia isn’t the issue for our family. It’s not something we need to worry about. After all, we have other issues related to how mom is acting that we need to deal with.”

Darlene: That is a good question. And in fact, the question really lets me know that family is in need of help. The mother’s dementia is affecting the family because they do say there is an issue to deal with. One thing I do is listen to the caller. He or she usually appreciates someone that’s going to listen. Instead of giving guidelines for the caller to follow, I ask this question. “What do you believe you need?” Sometimes this stifles the caller. Although the caller is feeling overwhelmed, for him to consider what is needed, really hasn’t been considered. This is where I can step in, depending on the caller’s situation. I can offer suggestions on how a special needs trust may benefit their loved one. I also can use our company’s national resource center to provide useful resources, such as Ms. Lynn Wood, with Mental Health America of the Midsouth to provide help.

Bart: Well, of course. I’m glad to hear that. I know, for some, it’s almost too easy to move on with other issues and not deal with dementia. But hearing what you’re saying, it should be a part of the family’s or the caregiver’s priorities.

Darlene: That’s so true, Bart. Facing the illness head-on can help the person living with dementia and the caregiver or family, live a better quality of life.

Bart: You know. You’re listening to people when they’re talking about and asking what they need – I think that’s wonderful. Can you share a story about someone living with dementia and how you helped the family and the special needs trust beneficiary?

Darlene: I have a heartfelt story to share, Bart. It’s a little long, but I think you’ll like it. One of our clients, who we call the beneficiary, was living with Alzheimer’s disease.  She had recently, she was recently placed in a Memory Care Unit at an assisted living facility. She expressed her disappointment with her family for putting her there because she wanted to stay home. And, she said that if the shoe was on the other foot, she knew she would care for her family member at home. 

And, you know, we get a lot of calls where the family is feeling so much guilt because they had to put someone into a memory care unit for their own good because they weren’t able to take care of them. Well, our Vista Points staff worked with the family to try to help make the beneficiary’s new residence more comfy and have a feel of being at home. The family was feeling quite guilty for placing their mom in the facility, but they knew she would receive better care there than they were providing at home as I said earlier. 

This woman loved to garden. Our staff worked with the social worker at the facility to have a small, raised garden built for the woman. Her adult children and grandchildren had fun working with her in choosing what to grow, when to plant, where to get seeds and plants, and so on. All of this was paid through her special needs trust. This project not only helped the family to feel less guilty, it also gave the beneficiary something to look forward to doing.  

Over the course of the summer, the beneficiary would share her products she had grown with fellow residents and staff. She would make a basket of vegetables and flowers for the family to take home when they visited.

Other residents became involved then, too. Many of them liked digging in the dirt, planting new seedlings, and harvesting the crops. The garden became such a hit that the Activities Director at the facility ordered more raised garden beds so more residents could participate.

The woman, our beneficiary, became known as the Master Gardener, at the facility, and she loved that title. The staff wrote an article about her and put it in their newsletter, and it went out to all of the families. The woman was so happy to have purpose once again. And you know, purpose is so important for everyone.  We all want to feel that we are providing a service, educating or making a difference.  All of our lives mean something. We just have to find the right way to use what we have. 

Bart: Well, we have one last question today, Darlene. And, thank you for that story. It was amazing. I bet this is the one that led to today’s guest! This listener says, “I’m a stay-at-home mom trying my best to care for all my children. I also have my parents living with my husband and me. My father has dementia. My mom was doing a great job in keeping his personal hygiene up to par. Last week, mom had a stroke and now she’s in the hospital, and I’m left to care for my dad. I don’t think I can balance all of this. What suggestions do you have for me?

Darlene:  Well, Bart, we get calls like this frequently. And for the listener who sent in this question, I want her to know that there ARE resources available. The first one that comes to mind in the Tennessee Respite Coalition. This organization can provide guidance in obtaining a nonmedical caregiver to step in and help out. Secondly would be Mental Health America. Lynn can do one-on-one visits in the home and give suggestions and resources for the caller and the family.

And lastly, if the father is needing to qualify for government benefits, such as SSI, which is Supplemental Security Income, and Medicaid to cover healthcare needs, then Vista Points can help with the process of establishing a special need trust for the father. This type of trust allows the father to preserve assets for future personal use and also receive the needed government benefits for daily care and health concerns.

Bart:  Thank you, Darlene, for your answer. And, thanks, Lynn, for joining us. And, thanks so much to our podcast listeners for tuning in to today’s episode of Choose Your Path, a Vista Points podcast. Don’t forget to ask your questions! If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to do so. 

You can ask your questions by calling the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number again is 888-422-4076. Each of the Vista Points team is happy to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way they can.

You can also ask your questions through the Facebook page, VistaPointsInc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C, where you can send a direct message, otherwise known as a D-M.

I’m glad to say our podcasts have become a smart resource for so many people. You can subscribe to the Vista Points YouTube channel and be notified as the latest episodes go live, which is on the 1st and 15th of every month. The YouTube channel is named Vista Points SNT, that’s S-N-T as in special needs trust.

You can also find past episodes and their transcriptions on the Vista Points website at vistapoints.org. That’s vistapoints-dot-O-R-G. You can also listen to past episodes on the YouTube site or in our website.

Enjoy your day with your loved one. Come back for more or look into past episodes of Choose Your Path. Regardless of where or when you find us, we walk beside you on your path. I look forward to sharing more information with you on how special needs trusts can be of benefit to anyone living with a disability – physical, mental or intellectual.