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Adapting to Change by Helen Gagel
A North Shore Village Member Experience

"Ladies and Gentlemen. The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent." 

“Alexa, read my book,” says Jane, and the Amazon Echo picks up where it left off in the latest Sue Grafton mystery. The Echo is just one of the tools that Jane uses to combat the effects of macular degeneration, a condition she has been living with for 10 years. Although she gave up driving in 2010—the same year she joined North Shore Village – Jane has not allowed the disease to cramp her style. She has a wide circle of friends and is on a first-name basis with maître ds throughout the area. 


As someone who cherishes her independence, Jane concedes that “learning to accept help from others has been difficult for me.” (her helpers would say that her sunny disposition and acute sense of humor make helping her a pleasure.)  The support network starts with family:  son, who lives in the area, and daughter and son-in-law, who are based in California, have made home modifications and technology upgrades that make it possible for Jane to live safely in her Evanston home of 40 years.

Her son upgraded light fixtures and installed bright lighting in stairwells. He also keeps Jane supplied with batteries for the miniature flashlights scattered around the house. Her daughter created large-type bank account logs, and organized the upstairs linen and medical supplies closet so that all items are easily accessible and labeled. Large-screen TVs in the living room and bedroom were also installed by the children, and large-type labels on the remote controls take the mystery out of channel-surfing.

Jane has a social calendar that would make a debutant jealous, and she keeps track of it with home-made calendar sheets (three days to each page) filled in with felt-tip pens. She is a regular at North Shore Village’s Thursday evening dinners and knows she can count on village friends for rides. “They are gems,” she says, “they help me with menu-reading and credit card transactions.”

While becoming more comfortable asking for and accepting help, this former teacher continues to contribute to the community. Jane has served on several North Shore Village committees, and has handled logistics for nine potluck suppers. She recently signed on as a conversation coach for a Northwestern University post-doctoral student from China. “She is a delight,” said Jane about her new friend. “Our initial one-hour visit stretched to two and a half hours, and we’ve since dined at my favorite Chinese restaurant. I look forward to meeting her parents and daughter, who are coming here for an extended visit.”

Although technology can be a source of frustration for older adults, it is also a boon to those of us living with disabilities.  “I love the computer!” says Jane. She begins her day by checking her email, which she reads in a large all-caps font. She plays Scrabble online with people across the US and Canada. She often shops online, and sings the praises of Peapod and their drivers, who bring her grocery order into the kitchen for her. Among her friends Jane is known as someone who never forgets a birthday or holiday, sending hundreds of cards each year. She now orders most of her cards from an online catalog, currentcatalog.

Asked what she misses from her life before macular degeneration set in, Jane had to pause, as if the idea of being restricted was new to her. She said tending her flower garden has become a challenge, but it’s offset by her “delightful” neighbor.  “Every year on Memorial Day we make a trip to Home Depot to buy plants – and enjoy the free hot dogs.” Her neighbor also takes the trash out to the alley for Jane, and clips and delivers the large-type crossword puzzles from the daily paper. Her neighbor also delivers fresh-baked muffins and the occasional dinner.

Jane’s coping skills are admired by her North Shore Village friends. Karen, a volunteer driver who has become a close friend, admires Jane’s attitude: “Her cheerful and hopeful personality overcomes her limitations. It’s amazing to me.”

About Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is an eye disease that progressively destroys the macula, the central portion of the retina, impairing central vision. Macular degeneration rarely causes total blindness because only the center of vision is affected. However, injury to the macula in the center of the retina can impair the ability to see straight ahead clearly and sometimes make it difficult to read, drive, or perform other daily activities that require fine central vision.  [source:]

About Alexa

With Amazon Echo’s Alexa, Jane can listen to audio books and her favorite music.  Alexa also gives the time and weather on demand and has a library of jokes that Jane enjoys with her grandson.  But when Jane asks for an introduction to George Clooney, the answer is always “no.”

North Shore Village, a member driven nonprofit organization of committed older adults helping each other to age together in their community