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Just Like Us

Like almost every teenage girl in the 1950’s, I loved movie magazines. PhotoPlay and Silver Screen. I’d pour over every issue to find out what these glamorous men and women were doing, who they were dating, and marrying. I’d clip photos and stories of my favorite actors and keep them in a folder.

One constant of those magazines was that none of the subjects got old or sick. Of course, they did get sick but publicists worked hard to keep those stories away from us.

How perceptions have changed

That’s all changed. Sometimes it is because an actor is paid by a pharmaceutical company to talk about a condition they have an the drug they are taking. Or, they volunteer for public awareness campaigns.

Creating visibility

I never thought age-related macular degeneration would make it to the celebrity pages. It has, thanks to Dame Judi Dench.

Dench, now 87, is one of those wonderful British actresses who started off doing Shakespeare and built a career in television and motion pictures. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love.” She was M in Bond movies. And she’s still working!

Continuing to work despite AMD

“Belfast,” her latest film, premieres in November 2021 and “Allelujah” is in production. Dench was diagnosed in 2012. Since then, she has starred in 16 motion pictures and several television series.

How does she do it?

With scripts in 22-point type and the help of her friends. And, like most of us, if she hadn’t talked about it, we would never have known. There is an array of things she can no longer do due to vision loss.

Here are a few of her quotes: “I can’t read the paper now, I can’t do the crossword, I can’t read a book…”

Making decisions about driving

The most traumatic moments of the condition was when it forced her to give up driving. “It was absolutely appalling. But I just know I’ll kill somebody if I get behind the wheel of a car now.”

Adapting and accepting

“There’s nothing you can do. You adapt to it. So I ignore it altogether,” Dame shared. I would add ‘not quite.’ From my research, it seems that she, like many of us, has injections to keep her eyes stable.

She has found a way to keep going to the movies. She has people to describe films to her. (Some television programs and movies do visual descriptions. I wandered into them one day. Interesting option.

Relationships with vision loss

When she was finishing “The Second Best Marigold Hotel” six years ago she relied on friends to help her get around. And, like so many of us, Dench had a relative with AMD: her mother.

At some point, it is easy to think that AMD is the first step on our way to obsolescence. Who would want to be our friend? Who could possibly be interested in me as an intimate partner?

Well, it hasn’t stopped Dame Dench. Her partner is neither an actor nor in the entertainment industry. “Yes, but she is famous, rich, attractive...” I don’t know about rich. She is famous. Her partner thinks she’s attractive.

Just like us

My take-away from learning about how she deals with AMD is that she is basically like us. We struggle. We accommodate. We make concessions. We occasionally moan and groan. We also follow that wonderful axion of World War II Britain, we “Keep Calm and Carry On".

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