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Prosopagnosia (face blindness) facts*
*Prosopagnosia (face blindness) facts medical author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
- Face blindness is a brain disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces.
- Face blindness is thought to be the result of abnormalities, damage, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus, a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the neural systems that control facial perception and memory.
- Face blindness can result from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases.
- The focus of any treatment should be to help the individual with face blindness develop compensatory strategies.
- Adults who have face blindness as a result of stroke or brain trauma can be retrained to use other clues to identify individuals.
What is prosopagnosia?
Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. Prosopagnosia is also known as face blindness or facial agnosia. The term prosopagnosia comes from the Greek words for “face” and “lack of knowledge.” Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognizing a familiar face; others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object. Some people with the disorder are unable to recognize their own face. Prosopagnosia is not related to memory dysfunction, memory loss, impaired vision, or learning disabilities. Prosopagnosia is thought to be the result of abnormalities, damage, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus, a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the neural systems that control facial perception and memory. Prosopagnosia can result from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases. In some cases it is a congenital disorder, present at birth in the absence of any brain damage. Congenital prosopagnosia appears to run in families, which makes it likely to be the result of a genetic mutation or deletion. Some degree of prosopagnosia is often present in children with autism and Asperger's syndrome, and may be the cause of their impaired social development.
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Is there any treatment?
The focus of any treatment should be to help the individual with prosopagnosia develop compensatory strategies. Adults who have the condition as a result of stroke or brain trauma can be retrained to use other clues to identify individuals.
What is the prognosis?
Prosopagnosia can be socially crippling. Individuals with the disorder often have difficulty recognizing family members and close friends. They often use other ways to identify people, such as relying on voice, clothing, or unique physical attributes, but these are not as effective as recognizing a face. Children with congenital prosopagnosia are born with the disability and have never had a time when they could recognize faces. Greater awareness of autism, and the autism spectrum disorders, which involve communication impairments such as prosopagnosia, is likely to make the disorder less overlooked in the future.
What research is being done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research related to prosopagnosia in its laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and also supports additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. Much of this research focuses on finding better ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure disorders, such as prosopagnosia.
Brain and Nervous System Resources
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). "Prosopagnosia." National Institutes of Health (NIH). 14 Feb. 2007. <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/prosopagnosia/Prosopagnosia.htm>.
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Asperger's syndrome (AS, Asperger syndrome, Asperger disorder) is an autism spectrum disorder. Asperger's syndrome is characterized by a degree of impairment in language and communication skills, and repetitive or restrictive thoughts or behaviors. The most common symptom of Asperger's syndrome is the obsessive interest in a single object or topic. Other conditions that may co-exist with Asperger's syndrome include:
- tic disorders,
- anxiety disorders,
- and OCD.
Diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome is complicated, and treatment is generally directed toward minimizing the symptoms of the syndrome and behavioral and educational interventions.
Autism and CommunicationAutism in children and adults is a developmental disorder, characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Autism is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), which is part of a broad spectrum of developmental disorders affecting young children and adults. There are numerous theories and studies about the cause of autism. The treatment model for autism is an educational program that is suitable to an individual's developmental level of performance. There is no "cure" for autism.
Birth DefectsBirth defects have many causes and currently, are the leading cause of death for infants in the first year of life. Some of the causes of birth defects include genetic or chromosome problems. Exposure of the mother to rubella or German measles during pregnancy, or using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. The treatment for birth defects depends upon the condition of the effected child.
Brain Lesions (Lesions on the Brain)A brain lesion is defined as an area of damaged brain. Brain lesions (lesions on the brain) are caused by:
- autoimmune diseases,
- other diseases,
- pituitary adenomas,
- and cerebral palsy.
- neck pain and stiffness,
- affected vision and speech,
- and weakness or paralysis to one side of the body.
Genetic CounselingYour health care provider may refer you to a genetic professional. Universities and medical centers also often have affiliated genetic professionals, or can provide referrals to a genetic professional or genetics clinic. Genetic counseling provides patients and family members the tools to make the right choice in regard to test for a disease or condition.
The definition of a genetic disease is a disorder or condition caused by abnormalities in a person's genome. Some types of genetic inheritance include single inheritance, including cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Marfan syndrome, and hemochromatosis. Other types of genetic diseases include multifactorial inheritance. Still other types of genetic diseases include chromosome abnormalities (for example, Turner syndrome, and Klinefelter syndrome), and mitochondrial inheritance (for example, epilepsy and dementia).
Learning DisabilityLearning disabilities can cause an individual to have trouble learning and using skills such as reading, listening, writing, reading, speaking, reasoning, and performing mathematics. There is no cure for learning disabilities. Parents and teachers working together to properly diagnose learning disabilities can properly plan a course of education. For some, medication may be appropriate as complimentary treatment.
PsychotherapyPsychoteraphy is often the first form of treatment recommended for depression. Psychotherapy helps depression by helping people understand the behaviors, emotions and ideas that contribute to their depression, regain a sense of control and pleasure in life, and learn coping techniques as well as problem solving skills.
Stroke Symptoms and Treatment
A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding (hemorrhagic).
Symptoms of a stroke may include:
- double vision or vision loss,
- difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
A physical exam, imaging tests, neurological exam, and blood tests may be used to diagnose a stroke. Treatment may include administration of clot-busting drugs, supportive care, and in some instances, neurosurgery. The risk of stroke can be reduced by controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stopping smoking.