The Oscar winner shares the story of her battle with macular degeneration.
Judi Dench revels in playing tough-as-nails characters like Queen Elizabeth and the British spy chief M in the James Bond flicks. No surprise, then, that she’s drawing on her own brand of toughness to battle age-related macular degeneration (AMD): “This condition is something that millions of people all over the world are having to contend with, and it’s something that I have learned to cope with and adapt to,” said Dame Judi, who has partial vision loss and now asks her daughter and friends to read scripts to her so she can memorize her lines.
Even so, the Oscar winner has every reason to keep dazzling her fans: Her disease was caught early, and Dame Judi’s doctors told her that treatment with medication has slowed its progression.
At 78, the actress has a classic example of AMD, an incurable disease marked by progressive deterioration of the macula as a person ages. The macula is the part of the retina that’s responsible for central vision—as the star discovered when she started having trouble seeing people directly in front of her. “The most distressing thing is in a restaurant in the evening,” she noted. “I can’t see the person’s face at all, but I can see the outline.”
Judi’s mom also had AMD (age and genetics are the two biggest risk factors), so the star knows what she’s up against. Her strategy for tackling this unexpected role? Props! “I’ve got lenses and glasses [to magnify], and very bright light helps,” said Judi, who also listens to audio books and is buying an e-reader so she can enlarge the type. “As long as there is a possibility of working, I’m not going to retire. I love what I do.”