The Oscar winner has macular degeneration, a condition that can lead to blindness

By Alison Schwartz
Updated February 20, 2012 07:00 AM
Credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty

For any actress, it’s just something that comes with the job. Before the big screen, and before filming even begins, Dame Judi Dench has to read the script.

But that part of her job is proving to be difficult, says Dench, because her vision is failing.

“I can’t read scripts any more because of the trouble with my eyes,” she tells the U.K.’s Mirror. “And so somebody comes in and reads them to me, like telling me a story.”

The Oscar-winning actress, 77, says she has been diagnosed with macular degeneration, a condition, characterized by damage to the retina, that can lead to blindness.

Dench, whose mom also had the condition, has already undergone treatment – “they had to do these injections and I think it’s arrested,” she says – and will next appear in Skyfall, the next installment of the James Bond saga (her seventh 007 blockbuster).

“As long as there is a possibility of working, I’m not going to retire,” she says. “If I retire, nothing will work any more, and it’s hard enough as it is.”

Although she can’t see faces in front of her, she says lenses, glasses and bright lighting help her eyesight.

“You get used to it,” she says. “I can do a crossword if it’s bright sunshine, but if a cloud comes out, the next minute I can’t see anything.”

On her shopping list? An e-book reader, so she can enlarge the words in the text. It’s the simple things, after all, she misses the most.

“The most distressing thing is in a restaurant in the evening, I can’t see the person I’m having dinner with,” she says. And when she goes to the theater, “What I miss are people corpsing on stage,” she says, referring to the British slang word for when an actor breaks character.

“I know there might be something going on, but sometimes, I can’t see it and that infuriates me as I think I’m really missing out on something.”

On Monday, the actress released a statement, thanking fans for their “concern” but also clarifying her situation slightly.

“In response to the numerous articles in the media concerning my eye condition – macular degeneration – I do not wish for this to be overblown,” she says. “This condition is something that thousands and thousands of people all over the world are having to contend with, and it’s something that I have learnt to cope with and adapt to – and it will not lead to blindness.”