Dame Judi Dench says deteriorating eyesight makes it 'impossible' to read scripts – what is macular disease?
Dame Judi Dench has revealed it is becoming “impossible” for her to read scripts to learn her lines because of her deteriorating eyesight.
The 88-year-old previously shared that she is living with macular disease or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), admitting that it is “intensely irritating”.
Discussing her condition on The Graham Norton Show, she explained that she can no longer see to read scripts, saying: “It has become impossible and because I have a photographic memory, I need to find a machine that not only teaches me my lines but also tells me where they appear on the page.”
“I used to find it very easy to learn lines and remember them,” added the star, who appeared on the show talking about her new film Allelujah.
“I could do the whole of Twelfth Night right now.”
The Skyfall actor previously revealed to BBC journalist Louis Theroux that she has no plans to retire despite her sight struggles.
“I don’t want to retire. I’m not doing much at the moment because I can’t see," Dame Dench told Theroux in the documentary Louis Theroux Interviews.
She also revealed was trying to “teach” herself to pick up a new way of learning her lines following her visual problems.
“I have a photographic memory so a person saying to me, ‘This is your line...’ I can do that,” the actor explained.
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Dench also shared how she sometimes relies on her friend, David Mills, for everyday tasks, recalling a recent occasion where he cut up her food in a restaurant, as she couldn’t see the meal on her plate as it was so dark.
She explained: “He cut it up and handed something to me on a fork and that’s the way I ate it.”
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is defined by the NHS as a condition that affects the middle part of vision.
It typically starts impacting people in their 50s and 60s. “It does not cause total blindness,” the NHS says. “But it can make everyday activities like reading and recognising faces difficult.”
Watch: Dame Judi Dench ‘seriously considered playing Queen Mother in series five of 'The Crown’
The actor, who plays M in the James Bond franchise, previously opened up about her faltering eyesight, revealing that she has given up driving as a result of her failing vision.
The Oscar winning star has been diagnosed with the degenerative eye condition, which according to Macular Society is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK.
Dench has spoken regularly about her eyesight impacting her ability to read scripts, but it wasn’t until 2017 that she was forced to give up driving.
"A couple of years ago I stopped driving, which was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. It was absolutely appalling," she told Radio Times.
"But I just know I'll kill somebody if I get behind the wheel of a car now."
The 88-year-old went on to explain that she can no longer read the newspaper, books or do the crossword. "But, you know, you cope," she explains.
Though she is unsure if or when she may lose her vision entirely, the actor doesn't want medical professionals to predict the outcome of her condition.
"I don't want to say. I can see enough... You adapt to it. So I ignore it altogether," she explained.
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What is macular degeneration?
According to the Macular Society, macular disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK affecting 1.5m people.
Though it can affect people of any age - even children, the most common type of macular disease is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which typically affects people over the age of 55.
Recent statistics reveal there are 600,000 people in the UK with AMD and this number is expected to double in the next 20 years as the population ages.
One in three people know someone with macular disease - it is more prevalent as dementia and represents a huge cost, care and societal burden, yet does not receive a level of research funding proportionate to its impact
And Dame Judi Dench, isn’t the only high profile star impacted by macular disease, ‘Eastenders’ actress June Brown is also a sufferer.
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What are the different types of macular disease?
As well as lots of types of macular disease there are also two types of AMD - Dry and Wet AMD.
“Dry AMD is the most common but less serious form of the disease affecting about 85% of patients,” explains Mr Sheraz Daya ophthalmologist and medical director of Centre for Sight.
“The condition occurs when the cones and rods photoreceptors in the central retina become damaged and the central vision progressively deteriorates very slowly over a number of years.”
Wet type AMD is the most serious type affecting approximately 15% of patients.
“The condition is so called because abnormal new vessels grow below the retina and result in leakage of fluid and blood in the macula with rapid loss of central vision within days,” Mr Daya continues.
“This condition can now be successfully slowed down by early intervention in order to prevent permanent loss of central vision.”
What are the symptoms of macular disease?
According to Macular Society both dry and wet AMD affects people in different ways but people may see gaps or dark spots (like a smudge on glasses) in their vision, especially first thing in the morning.
Objects in front of them might change shape, size or colour or seem to move or disappear and words might disappear when you are reading.
Straight lines such as door frames and lampposts may also appear distorted or bent.
“Early symptoms of AMD may include difficulty in reading, difficulty in recognising people's faces and distortions in the central vision,” Mr Daya explains.
“The sight loss usually occurs gradually over time, although it can develop very rapidly due to sudden bleeding in the central area of the retina, the macula, with loss of central vision within a few days.”
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What are the causes of macular disease?
The Macular Society says our age and our genes are the biggest factors in developing macular disease. But there are lifestyle risks too; smoking, poor diet, high blood pressure and obesity can all increase risk.
“Though the exact cause of AMD is still unknown, there are several risk factors associated with the condition that include smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight and having family members with the disease,” Specsavers clinical spokesperson, Dr Nigel Best adds.
Can macular disease be cured?
Vision Express’ director of professional services, Dan McGee said: “Although a cure for most macular disease is yet to be found, some macular conditions can be treated if detected early enough.
Mr Daya says the treatment of wet AMD has been transformed over the past few years by the drugs which block the vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF).
“These treatments are given as injections directly into the eye (intravitreal injections) under local anaesthetic at around 4 to 8 weekly intervals and are effective at slowing down AMD progression, preserving eyesight and limiting permanent damage on the macula,” he explains.
But having regular eye tests is also vitally important.
“This helps to prolong healthy eyes, and for those already diagnosed with the disease, advice from an expert optometrist can make a real difference to quality of life,” McGee adds.
Commenting on the need for further research Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society says: "Macular disease is cruel and isolating. Day to day we hear from people about the devastating impact it has on their lives - taking away their dreams and plans for the future.
“And yet, despite its devastating impact, too little is known about its causes and for the majority of people affected there is not even a treatment, let alone a cure.
"We must do everything we can to raise awareness of this condition and weeks like Macular Week (June 24-30) enable us to do this effectively.
"Today, more and more people are being diagnosed with macular disease. It is already a major public health crisis with far more people living with macular disease than dementia. We must stop it in its tracks."
For more information about macular disease visit Macular Society or call their Advice and Information Service - 0300 3030 111.