Face Blindness
A person with prosopagnosia (face blindness) may fail to recognize faces they have seen many times.

Face blindness, also called prosopagnosia, is a condition in which you have difficulty or an inability in recognizing faces. Although many may encounter difficulties remembering or recognizing people occasionally, face blindness is a problem much more severe than that. It may affect children as well as the elderly.

If you think you or your child may have face blindness, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and appropriate management strategies. Certain tests, such as the Benton Facial Recognition Test and Warrington Recognition Memory of Faces, may help make an accurate diagnosis.

Your doctor may advise brain imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging, to look for any signs of brain damage or abnormalities.

What are the signs and symptoms of face blindness?

Symptoms of face blindness may include:

  • A person with prosopagnosia may fail to recognize faces they have seen many times.
  • The severity of this condition may range from not being able to recognize neighbors, relatives, friends, family, or even one’s face in the mirror.
  • The affected person may use other cues, such as the other person’s voice, clothing, or hairstyle and way of walking, to recognize them.
  • Although they struggle to recognize faces, the person can remember names.
  • The affected person may have difficulty imagining the faces of the people they know, such as their spouse and kids, in some cases.
  • They often struggle to follow plays, movies, or television shows because they do not remember faces, which makes them fail to understand the plot.
  • They may struggle to identify famous people.
  • The struggle to recognize people could be more severe in settings where everyone wears similar clothes, such as school or work uniforms.
  • Difficulty describing faces of familiar people.
  • Problems recognizing a person if they change the way they dress up or style their hair.
  • The inability to remember faces may cause significant anxiety and stress. The person may avoid socializing due to the problem. They may struggle in school or at work.

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What causes face blindness?

Studies suggest that face blindness is caused by certain abnormalities, malfunctions, or damages in the right fusiform gyrus of the brain called the right fusiform gyrus. This fold in the brain facilitates you to perceive and remember faces. Abnormalities or damages affecting the fusiform gyrus could be acquired or present at birth.

Thus, the causes of face blindness can be broadly divided into two categories:

  1. Developmental face blindness (prosopagnosia): This type of prosopagnosia is a congenital condition (i.e., present at birth). It results due to faulty development of the brain, which makes recognizing and remembering faces difficult. Studies suggest that developmental prosopagnosia may result from genetic abnormalities, such as gene mutation or deletion. Developmental prosopagnosia tends to run in family; the affected person may have a first-degree relative with this condition. People with some other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as Asperger’s syndrome or autism, may get face blindness of varying severity.
  2. Acquired face blindness (prosopagnosia): As the name suggests, acquired prosopagnosia results from (is acquired as a result of) certain conditions after the person is born. The causes could be a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease).

Although face blindness causes difficulty recognizing and remembering faces, it is not associated with memory impairment or intellectual deficits. The affected person has normal learning abilities and vision. In some conditions, however, prosopagnosia may occur along with disorders, such as autism, that may cause a problem with learning.

Can face blindness be cured?

Currently, there is no specific cure or treatment for face blindness. The affected person, however, can learn ways to cope with the disease with the help of doctors or therapists. They can help the person develop other mechanisms to identify people rather than their face alone. This may be through their hair, gait (way of walking), voice, or the way they dress.

  • Face blindness may cause significant social anxiety and stress and may even lead to depression.
  • Appropriate and timely help from a qualified psychiatrist must be obtained to cope with these problems.
  • You may join support groups on social media platforms or offline to learn and interact with other people with this condition.

Children with face blindness may need particular care so that they are not harmed due to their inability to identify parents or caregivers. A pediatric psychologist may help build the child’s confidence and allay any anxiety due to the condition.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/26/2022
References
Image Source: Getty image

Prosopagnosia. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/prosopagnosia

Facial Prosopagnosia May Be Common but Largely Unknown Dysfunction. https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/540951

More than Meets the Eye. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/more-meets-eye-0