Helping elderly people maintain their independence and dignity.

Dorothy Brooks' second career is giving her new perspective.An actor and singer for more than 20 years, she realized a couple of things several years ago: 1) She is married to a fellow working actor (meet Alan Brooks from the profile of the spring 2011 DEF newsletter); and 2) It's harder for older women to get roles. So she decided to embark on a second career in sales.

She's had several positions since then, all in service-oriented sales. "I feel like I've been trying to help people to reach their goals and be happy in their lives," Brooks says. "I've never been driven by the almighty dollar – always by what fed my soul and what helped other people."

As the current director of community relations for Sunrise Senior Living, Brooks has a bird's eye view of how to help elderly people maintain their independence and dignity. It's something that has given her great insight on her 90-year-old mother, Jessie Dee.

When Dee was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration about 16 years ago, neither she nor her daughter knew much about the disease. Brooks did know, however, that it was time to take some long-thought-about trips, while her mother could still see. So they embarked on adventures to Ireland and along the Pacific Coast Highway in California, with the help of amateur travel agent and son-in-law extraordinaire, Alan.

"My mother has been amazing in dealing with AMD. She has always adapted amazingly well to it," Brooks says. "She's pretty stoic, but in the past 5-6 years, it's really gotten a lot worse and affected her life. She doesn't see faces anymore at all; she knows there's a person there, but she only sees a couple of inches from her eyes."

Dee moved into an assisted living community in Florida about three years ago. "It's hard to go to a new community and meet people without being able to see," Brooks says.

Dee has made plenty of friends – she even thought she'd run into one recently, when she saw her very tall, white-haired friend, Ellie, across the street. Dee waved, but, oddly, Ellie didn't wave back. This happened several times, before Dee decided to ask Ellie what was wrong. She crossed the street and approached her friend, which turned out to be a mop propped up in a maid's cart. Dee thought this was hilarious.

In addition to maintaining a great sense of humor, Dee continually works very hard to adapt to her AMD. She learned to type, so she could use her new computer. She helps run a group for visually impaired people in her community, and she recently organized a walk to raise money for it. She uses a low-vision magnifier to help her read and write, and she now uses a white cane to help her get around. She told her local grocery store that it was difficult for her to shop, so they've assigned an employee to accompany her around the store.

Brooks and her husband have begun to get involved with the *Macular Degeneration Partnership, and Alan soon will be recording parts of the MDP and DEF websites, so visually impaired visitors can hear news and information about macular degeneration, treatments and ways to cope.

Brooks recalls that her grandmother also had AMD, and she is well-aware of the hereditary component of the disease. She regularly gets her eyes checked, takes vitamins for eye health and has tried to adopt an attitude toward AMD of which her mother would be proud: accepting whatever comes and making the best of it.

"It's made me realize what an amazing woman my mom is," Brooks says. "She is amazingly independent considering what AMD has taken away from her. If she weren't so resilient, it could have undone her. She is an inspiration to me." And, surely, to everyone around her.

Get to know Jessie Dee

Get to know Alan Brooks

Posted April 2011

*The Macular Degeneration Partnership became a program of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UC Irvine in 2016.