She can’t see faces in front of her or read her own lines.
But she is determined not to let the condition beat her and hopes recent treatment has stopped the progressive decline.
Dame Judi said: “I can’t read scripts any more because of the trouble with my eyes. So somebody reads them to me, like telling me a story.
“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.
“I’ve got what my ma had, macular degeneration, which you get when you get old.
“I had wet in one eye and dry in the other and they had to do these injections and I think it’s arrested it. I hope so.”
Dame Judi told our interviewer at a top London hotel: “I can’t see your face at all now, but I can see your outline.”
Indicating the far side of the room, some 15ft away, she said: “I can see over there.”
She added: “The most distressing thing is in a restaurant I can’t see the person I’m having dinner with.
“Actually, what I miss are people corpsing (giggling) on stage. 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.
“You get used to it. I’ve got lenses and glasses and things and very bright light helps.
“I can do a crossword if it’s bright sunshine but if a cloud comes out next minute I can’t see anything.”
Dame Judi plans to buy a digital book reader so she can make the words bigger.
She said: “I’m going to try that and I love talking books, too, because my daughter, Finty, has done lots and Michael did masses of them, too.”
Michael was her late husband Michael Williams, who died of lung cancer in 2001. They had one daughter, Finty, 40, who has a 15-year-old son, Sam.
After a number of successful TV shows, Dame Judi’s film career took off when she played Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown in 1997.
She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Queen Elizabeth in 1998 film Shakespeare in Love.
Dame Judi is now filming her seventh James Bond film, Skyfall, as “M” alongside Daniel Craig as 007. She and Craig were filming scenes in Glen Coe last week.
Regardless of her extraordinary career, Dame Judi doesn’t want to be called a national treasure.
She said. “It sounds like you will be put away in a glass cabinet and every now and then you’re taken out to be dusted down.”
And despite her sight problems, she has no plans to retire.
She said: “As long as there is a possibility of working I’m not going to retire.
“Because if I retire, nothing will work any more and it’s hard enough as it is.
“I’m very conscious that I’m in the minority, in that I love what I do.
“How big is the number of people who are running to work to do a job that they like? And how lucky to be employed at it – how incredibly lucky.”
Dame Judi’s latest film is about a group of British pensioners who spend their retirement in India at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel after they have been cast aside by society in the UK.
She said: “It’s full of hope.”
? THE Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released on Friday.
It affects the eye’s nerves
Lyndon Da Cruz, consultant ophthalmic surgeon
AGE-RELATED macular degeneration is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the macular – a small but vital part of the retina.
The macular has all the high-quality reading nerves and is right in the centre of the patient’s vision.
Ms. Dench is one of the greatest British actresses — a star alum of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sally Bowles in the London production of “Cabaret” and an Oscar winner for her eight-minute turn as Queen Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love.”
She died in James Bond’s arms, as the murdered spymaster M. And she has portrayed so many queens on stage and screen that when she plays a duchess, it seems like a demotion.
So what to talk about with this regal creature?
Well, what else? Lingerie, tattoos, rap music, younger men, sex and her hobby of embroidering cushions with raunchy sayings.
Even though her name became a synonym for priggishness, I observe, Victoria was a sexy little thing, wasn’t she?
“We are not amused,” Ms. Dench says with faux hauteur, offering the line associated with Victoria. Comparing the queen to the interior of a tree (Ms. Dench loves trees), she said: “She had a huge passion and need inside her. She had a happy life with Albert and then those years with John Brown, and then I’m sure she’d certainly given up by then and was just caught up in the drudgery of everything. And suddenly, that wonderful kind of flowering, where she thought, ‘This is really something worth living for.’”
She said she understands that “heady state” well, discovering someone you can laugh with and learn from. “As a person,” she said, “I’m very, very susceptible. For 60 years, I’ve fallen in love with people.”
Is there any advantage in women getting involved with subordinates?
She said they could get smitten with “the dustman, the postman, the butcher or the prime minister. It happens to be about the people.”