Jessie Dee relishes life as a VIP

Jessie Dee refers to herself as a "VIP" – a "visually impaired person." A 90-year-old powerhouse dealing with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), she has certainly earned the right to the designation, in all its meanings.

Dee is a co-leader of VIPs of Lakeview Terrace, an independent-living community in Central Florida. The group meets monthly to listen to speakers, get together for dinner, take field trips and participate in myriad activities. Dee wishes more people would join the core group of about 13 residents: "A lot of people with macular' (as she calls it) don't want to admit they have it," she says.

Dee has not just admitted she has AMD; she has embraced it. In addition to running the VIPs, she takes every opportunity to "make the best of it." Early on, she attended an independent-living class to learn about ways to deal with her deteriorating vision. According to Dee, the most important thing for people with AMD is to get help early. "Don't wait until you're legally blind," she advises. "I got help before my sight got as bad as it is. If you learn while you still have sight, you'll do great."

As her vision loss accelerated during the past five years – she now has no sight in her right eye and just a bit of peripheral vision in her left – Dee took additional measures to cope. "I felt depressed for a little while, but I realized there was nothing else I could do but make the best of it," she says. "My biggest problem is I can no longer play cards."

Dee also misses reading and highly recommends new digital books that are "much better than heavy talking books." Since she can't read the book lists, she tells volunteers at a center for the blind in Daytona, Fla., what types of books she likes, and they send them to Dee on a regular basis. The books are such a source of enjoyment to her that she is adamant that anyone who wants to help someone with low vision should volunteer to read: "Whatever you do, read for people," she says.

With the help of the Leesburg, Fla., organization New Vision for Independence, Dee recently got a computer and learned to type. "I decided I had to learn something to fill my hours," Dee says. "New Vision sent a blind woman, her dog and her husband to my house to teach me. Now I can type a letter, send a message and make a grocery list. I've accomplished as much as I need to." (There are organizations like New Vision in most states. 

A retired nurse and Ohio native, Dee is close to her four children, including her daughter, Dorothy, and son-in-law, Alan, both of whom were profiled in past DEF newsletters (see below). "I don't have to be lonesome," she says. "I know my way around; I walk around the lake every day. I know a lot of people here, and even if I don't recognize them, they know who I am. There's always someone around who I can talk to. My life is good."

While Dee now walks with a cane, she prefers her walker, adding with a laugh: "It lets me know what's ahead of me. My goal in life now is not to fall down."

Posted November 2011