Dame Judi Dench Losing Her Sight

As  James Bond’s boss, M, Dame Judi Dench leads MI5’s battle against global terrorism.

But now the 77-year-old actress is in a personal battle to save her sight.

The Academy-Award winning actress told Britain’s Daily Mirror that she has been diagnosed with age-related macular dengeneration. In fact, it’s gotten so bad, that she can no longer read scripts and has to have others read them to her:

It’s usually my daughter or my agent or a friend, and actually I like that, because I sit there and imagine the story in my mind.  The most distressing thing is in a restaurant in the evening I can’t see the person I’m having dinner with.

Dench says that her mother also suffered from the disorder, and that, despite this problem, she has no plans to retire.

I had wet in one eye and dry in the other [two different forms of the disease- see below] and they had to do these injections and I think it’s arrested it. I hope so.

Dench has received many award nominations for her acting in theatre, film and television; her awards include 10 BAFTAs, (including the Bafta Fellowship in 2001) 7 Laurence Olivier Awards, 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards, 2 Golden Globes, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award. She won her Academy Award for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare In Love. She is currently filming her 7th James Bond film.

What is the Macula?

The macula is an oval-shaped highly pigmented yellow spot located in the center of the retina,  which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.  Near its center is the fovea, a small pit that contains the largest concentration of cone cells in the eye and is responsible for central vision. The retina instantly converts light, or an image, into electrical impulses. The retina then sends these impulses, or nerve signals, to the brain.


What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving.

AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain.

In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older.

Left: Normal vision

Right: The same scene as viewed by a person with age-related macular degeneration.




Wet vs. Dry?

AMD is divided into two different types, wet AMD and dry AMD.


Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These new blood vessels tend to be very fragile and often leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye. Damage to the macula occurs rapidly.

With wet AMD, loss of central vision can occur quickly.

An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy. If you notice this condition or other changes to your vision, contact your eye care professional at once. You need a comprehensive dilated eye exam.


Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. As dry AMD gets worse, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. Over time, as less of the macula functions, central vision is gradually lost in the affected eye.

The most common symptom of dry AMD is slightly blurred vision. You may have difficulty recognizing faces. You may need more light for reading and other tasks. Dry AMD generally affects both eyes, but vision can be lost in one eye while the other eye seems unaffected.

One of the most common early signs of dry AMD is drusen.

Drusen are yellow deposits under the retina. They often are found in people over age 60.

Drusen alone do not usually cause vision loss. In fact, scientists are unclear about the connection between drusen and AMD. They do know that an increase in the size or number of drusen raises a person’s risk of developing either advanced dry AMD or wet AMD. These changes can cause serious vision loss.

A Needle or a Telescope in Your Eye?

Treatment for Age-Related Macular Degeneration is using some exciting new treatment options. We will talk about two of these options in  Part 2. Stay tuned!!!

For more information about Age-Related Macular Degeneration visit the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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