From James Bond to Shakespeare it is undeniable that Dame Judi can portray just about any character that is thrown her way. She has been nominated for an Oscar seven times, winning in1998 for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. But recently, at an online event the actress spoke about how a degenerative eye condition makes learning lines and performing increasingly difficult.
Speaking with Stephen Fry and Hayley Mills for the Vision Foundation – a London sight loss charity – Dame Judi admitted that she is struggling with age-related macular degeneration or AMD. This is a common condition that usually affects people in their 50s and 60s.
Instead of usual methods that actors use to learn scripts and prepare for their roles, Dame Judi has to rely on friends to repeat them as she cannot read the text. The actress 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!”
In line with her wicked sense of humour she added: “I can easily go up and play a whole scene with somebody who is totally the wrong person.”
READ MORE: How to sleep: The ‘military method’
“During lockdown I made a film and I was up close addressing people wearing masks during rehearsals, nothing to do with any scene I’m in. It’s kind of exquisite if you can do that and that’s the good side of it, and you have to look at that side of it.”
The cause of Dame Judi’s sight loss seems to be genetic as she explains that her mother also had a similar condition. In fear that her own daughter Finty will be handed the same fate, she ensures that she has regular eye tests.
In addition to her sight, the star explained that she also struggles with hearing, making things even harder for herself in the acting world. “I can’t hear nor can I see them,” Dame Judi chuckled when asked how much she can still see fellow actors.
Although the dangers of total blindness are minimal in individuals who suffer from AMD, the NHS states that without treatment symptoms can get gradually worse over time. This can either take several years (dry AMD) or occur extremely quickly within a matter of weeks or months (wet AMD).
Symptoms of AMD
The condition can present itself in multiple different ways. Usually it affects the middle part of your vision, not the peripheral vision (edges). This is something that Dame Judi has also admitted.
The first sign of the condition is often a blurred or distorted area in your vision. This can occur in either one eye or both. As the condition worsens, some people experience a black mark or something in the middle of their vision, blocking most of what they are able to see.
Other possible symptoms according to the NHS include seeing straight lines as wavy or crooked, objects looking smaller than normal, colours seeming less bright and seeing things that aren’t there – hallucinations.
If you become worried about your eyesight it is important to book an appointment with an optician straight away. Sometimes signs of AMD can be found early before symptoms occur.
Opticians will often use a magnifying glass with a light to look at the back of your eyes and check your vision. They may also put drops in your eyes to make it easier for them to spot any potential problems.
As with most conditions, there are risk factors that can increase your chances of developing AMD. As is the case with Dame Judi, genetics can be one. In addition, obesity and cardiovascular disease are also known to increase your risk of AMD according to The Mayo Clinic. Therefore it is important to visit your optician the recommended amount of times a year which is twice.
Depending on the type of AMD the individual has – dry or wet – treatments may differ. For the most serious of the two types, which is wet AMD people may be offered frequent eye injections or therapy.
Eye injections, although graphic sounding, stop vision getting worse in nine out of 10 people and improves vision in three out of 10.This successful treatment involves injections directly into the eye usually every couple of months. Numbing drops are used before the treatment to avoid discomfort.
Therapies on the other hand can include photodynamic therapy (PDT). This is where a light is shined at the back of the eyes to destroy the abnormal blood vessels that are causing the condition. They can be used alongside eye injections and again the procedure is repeated every few months.
Research into new treatments for AMD is ongoing as none so far can cure the condition completely. For those living with AMD, using devices such as a magnifying glass, ensuring you have bright lighting in your home and downloading software and mobile apps onto tablets and mobile phones can all help you live with the condition.