Dame Judi Dench is a vision.
The spry 88-year-old actress continues to amaze on stage and in movies. And she shows no signs of slowing down. (Just watch her express how upset she gets when treated like a person of “a certain age.”)
However, her deteriorating eyesight is proving to be a challenge for the one-time Oscar winner and 10-time BAFTA award recipient. She’s been dealing with macular degeneration for more than a decade.
Speaking candidly earlier this month during an appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Dench admitted that reading scripts has become difficult.
“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,” says Dench. “I used to find it very easy to learn lines and remember them. I could do the whole of Twelfth Night right now.”
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Living with Macular Degeneration
According to the American Optometric Association, “Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over age 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.8 million people have AMD and another 7.3 million are at substantial risk for vision loss from AMD.”
- The gradual loss of ability to see objects clearly.
- The shape of objects appears distorted.
- Straight lines look wavy or crooked.
- Loss of clear color vision.
- A dark or empty area in the center of vision.
In 2012, Dench spoke with Entertainment Tonight about her gradual loss of vision after a report came out inferring she was going blind.
“In response to the numerous articles in the media concerning my eye condition – macular degeneration – I do not wish for this to be overblown,” Dench said at the time. “This condition is something that thousands and thousands of people all over the world are having to contend with… and it’s something I have learnt to cope with and adapt to — and it will not lead to blindness.”
In 2019, Dench admitted in an interview with Radio Times that she’d stopped driving in 2017. She hated the idea of doing so then. But she knows it was the right decision.
“A couple of years ago I stopped driving, which was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. It was absolutely appalling,” Dench said. “But I just know I’ll kill somebody if I get behind the wheel of a car now.”
Then in 2021, Dench talked with The Guardian during an online event promoting the Vision Foundation, a British sight loss charity. She explained her workaround process for learning lines with failing eyesight.
“You find a way of just getting about and getting over the things that you find very difficult,” she said. “I’ve had to find another way of learning lines and things, which is having great friends of mine repeat them to me over and over and over again. So I have to learn through repetition, and I just hope that people won’t notice too much if all the lines are completely hopeless!”
Dench’s latest film, titled “Allelujah,” hits U.S. movie theaters on March 17. Here is the movie’s synopsis:
“When the geriatric ward in a small Yorkshire hospital is threatened with closure, the hospital decides to fight back by galvanizing the local community: they invite a news crew to film their preparations for a concert in honour of the hospital’s most distinguished nurse. ALLELUJAH celebrates the spirit of the elderly patients whilst paying tribute to the deep humanity of the medical staff battling with limited resources and ever-growing demand.”
You can watch the trailer below.
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