Prosopagnosia: What is “Face Blindness”?
Communication starts with the face. Whether it is yours or a random person’s face, it is the most expressive part of us humans, helping us express ourselves where words cannot. However, prosopagnosia is a truth among humans as well. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines prosopagnosia as a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. The disorder is also commonly known as face blindness or facial agnosia. With varying degrees of severity, some patients may only struggle with recognizing familiar faces, while others will be unable to discriminate between faces they have never seen before. The level can go up to not being able to distinguish a face from an object and even not recognizing their own faces. A new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the VA Boston Healthcare System stated that as many as one in 33 people (3.08 percent) might meet the criteria for face blindness or prosopagnosia. The studies about this disorder suggest that this disorder lies in a spectrum, and the current tests are not very inclusive, meaning that there are numerous people out there undiagnosed. Prosopagnosia affects lives starting from one’s own mental health. This disorder is unrecognized in society, creating more problems for the patients. Here is an insight into what face blindness is and how one can deal with it.
Face blindness is not associated with memory dysfunction as it may come across at first sight. People with prosopagnosia do not “forget” faces. It is proposed to be linked with damage or impairment to the right fusiform gyrus, the brain region associated with facial perception. Prosopagnosia can occur in the aftermath of a stroke or a traumatic brain injury or in neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. It can also be present from birth without any recorded brain damage or exist in people on the Autism spectrum (NIH). It can be genetic and run in families too. The National Health Services states other symptoms other than the inability to recognize faces that may come with prosopagnosia as having difficulties while:
recognising emotions on people's faces
recognising people's age and gender
recognising characters and following plots in TV programs or films
recognising other things, such as cars or animals
finding your way around
Not being able to recognize faces and the additional symptoms mentioned above combine to create a variety of challenges for patients in their daily lives. First of all, it is accompanied by social anxiety and depression leading to isolation because not recognizing faces comes with confusion and impaired relationships with people. It also causes problems with employment and makes the patients dependent on other people for their living.
One of the biggest problems with face blindness diagnosis is its spectrum not being understood fully. In the study done by Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the VA Boston Healthcare System that has been mentioned above, they have also found that 1 in 108 have major prosopagnosia, whereas 1 in 47 have mild prosopagnosia and the diagnosis methods used for prosopagnosia has been effective in diagnosing the more mild levels of prosopagnosia even though it can still damage one’s well being. It is crucial to expand the criteria to include those with milder forms to establish an increased awareness.
Sadly, there is no treatment for face blindness; however, there are suggested ways to help to cope with it. Some of them the National Health Services suggest are to:
telling people about the condition before you meet them
asking people you're close to for help identifying others
asking people to introduce themselves when you greet them
using people's voices or body language to tell them apart
making a note of distinctive features about a person, such as a hairstyle, jewelry, or accessories
using name tags or writing down the names of colleagues and where they sit at work
There is still a lot uncovered about face blindness; however, what is known as a fact is that it affects millions of people’s lives today. It is the awareness that can start helping diagnosed people with the complex challenges they face every day. We hope that in the future, treatment options will become a reality and awareness about these types of neurological disorders will increase.
Edited by Bilge Öztürk
"How Common is Face Blindness?" Neuroscience News, 5 Mar. 2023, neurosciencenews.com/prosopagnosia-face-blindness-22715/.
"Prosopagnosia." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/prosopagnosia#.
"Prosopagnosia (face blindness)." National Health Services, www.nhs.uk/conditions/face-blindness/.