Actor of film and stage, Dame Judi Dench, now filming her seventh James Bond film, Skyfall, where she plays 007’s MI5 boss M, has given a moving interview where she talks about her determination to beat macular degeneration, an eye condition that is the leading cause of blindness in the western world.
The interview, with UK’s Daily Mirror, was published on Saturday.
Dame Judi says she hopes the injections she has received will stop the progressive decline.
Macular degeneration, often called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is an eye disorder associated with aging where people’s vision becomes less sharp and they gradually lose central vision.
Dame Judi says her sight is now so bad she can’t read scripts, she has to rely on friends and family to help her learn her lines.
AMD affects the macula, the middle part of the retina that allows the eye to see fine details. There are two forms of AMD, wet and dry. Although dry is by far the most common form, unfortunately drugs are only available for wet AMD.
Dame Judi says she has dry AMD in one eye and wet AMD in the other.
The number of people with AMD worldwide is going up every year. Currently it is estimated that about half of the 370,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK have AMD.
Dame Judi said her mother also had macular degeneration:
“I’ve got what my ma had, macular degeneration, which you get when you get old,” she said.
Her ability to see varies according to how much light is in the room and what she is looking at. She cannot see faces in front of her, but she can see to the other side of the room.
She told her Daily Mirror interviewer, “I can’t see your face at all now, but I can see your outline”.
She said the most distressing thing was not being able to see who she was having dinner when she went out to a restaurant in the evening.
She said “you get used to it”. Lenses and glasses and “very bright light helps”.
For example, she can do a crossword if the sun is out and shining brightly, but as soon as a cloud comes over, she can’t see anything.
She said she is going to get a e-book reader so she can make the text bigger.
Dame Judi has vowed not to be beaten and she has no plans to retire.
“As long as there is a possibility of working I’m not going to retire because if I retire nothing will work any more and it’s hard enough as it is.”
She said she is very conscious of being in a minority of people who love their work.
“How big is the number of people who are running to work to do a job that they like? And how lucky to be employed at it – how incredibly lucky,” she said.
Dame Judi’s latest film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a British comedy-drama directed by John Madden, is about a group of British retirees who decide to leave the UK and spend their retirement in India where life seems less expensive and more exotic.
Her late husband Michael Williams, also an actor, died from lung cancer in 2001. They have one child, a daughter Finty, 40, who has a son, Sam, 15.
Last month, a study in the The Lancet reported a small trial where two patients, one with macular degeneration, showed measurable improvements in vision after receiving injections of retinal cells derived from stem cells.
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD