Dame Judi Dench has acknowledged that she has been stricken with macular degeneration, an incurable eye condition that slowly robs its victims of their sight.
The 77-year-old actress has accommodated her condition by working with friends and relatives who read her scripts to her while she memorizes them. It is a technique that several other actors, those stricken with dyslexia like Lance Henrickson and Susan Hampshire, have used.
Dench began her acting career in 1957 at London’s Old Vic Theater and has been involved in that theater’s restoration for several years now, along with Kevin Spacey and other actors and civic leaders. The Vic had been closed because of declining ticket sales blamed on a disintegration of the neighborhood surrounding it.
Age-related macular degeneration causes loss of vision in the center of the eye first, then spreads outwards. There are two forms, wet and dry, but they both involve the detachment of the retina. The wet form, which entails the growth of extra blood vessels behind the retina, is the more severe and least controllable. The dry form involves the depositing of debris behind the retina.
There has been some research in using cholesterol-lowering drugs in the early stages of AMD to shrink the debris behind the retina. There are also treatments for the wet form that involve lasering the new blood vessels and a medication that stops and sometimes reverses the growth of them. Nothing really cures AMD, only slows its progression.
Dame Judi told the Daily Mirror in London that it is the activities of daily life and not her acting that has been most effected by the AMD. She can’t see straight ahead, and so cannot see the person she is having dinner with. Her acting could remain vital, with some adaptations in learning her lines and accommodation for set structures. There have been so many seeing actors who play blind people, having a blind person play blind or even seeing would be a change.
Blind or not, she is still Dame Judi Dench, and one of the most respected actresses in the English-speaking world. With a career that has encompassed stage, screen and television, she has proven herself to be completely adaptable to both role and medium. Dame Judi is also not one of those people who would choose to retire if she could possibly keep working.