Prosopagnosia is quite an unusual disorder, where the affected individual is unable to recognize faces. The article provides information about the unique characteristics of this disorder, and its causes.
The term prosopagnosia is derived from Greek words prosop which means face, and agnosia which means lack of knowledge. Also known as face blindness, in this condition the affected person is unable to recognize the distinguishing features of a human face. Depending on the degree of impairment, some people are unable to recognize a familiar face, while few may have difficulty differentiating two faces. In some rare cases, the problem is so severe that the person is unable to recognize his/her own reflection in the mirror.
There are two different forms of this condition – developmental and acquired. Developmental prosopagnosia occurs much before the brain has started learning how to recognize faces. The possible causes of this disorder are pre-natal injury or genetic defect. Sufficient evidence suggest, that the disorder could be hereditary and run in families. Children diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s may also get affected by this disorder.
In all such cases, the disorder could be present since childhood, but gets diagnosed later, when the child fails to identify people from their facial features. Acquired prosopagnosia often occurs after some kind of brain injury due to head trauma, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases. However, in both the conditions, the part of the brain which enables it to process the data for facial perception, gets disrupted.
The symptoms of this condition are often quite confusing. Even if the condition is present since childhood, people may miss out on it for many years, as they may think that they do not remember the faces just out of laziness. Some people may not exactly recognize the faces, but still show some kind of emotional response to familiar ones.
Others may not react at all, while in few people, the problem may not be just confined to recognizing faces. In such cases, the affected person cannot even make out the difference between two separate objects. The condition can be so severe, that the person has problems distinguishing two absolutely different things like a car and an airplane!
The condition can be identified with the help of a simple test, where the person is shown a large number of pictures. Images of different objects like houses, landscapes, vehicles, tools, instruments, as well as human faces are shown randomly to the person. Many of these images are repeated during this process, and people affected by this condition, fail to the realize the repetition of faces (particularly).
Although, there is no cure or treatment for this disorder, good atmosphere can be provided to the affected person, to cope up with the situation in a better manner. A strategy needs to be worked out, by such a person to identify the people whom he/she meets regularly. They can identify them with their voices, hairstyles, gait, clothes, or glasses. The other sources of hints could be, the type of car a particular individual possesses, or the house in which he/she lives. At the workplace, colleagues can be identified with the type of job they do.
People affected by this condition tend to become shy and withdrawn, as they have to face embarrassment in various social situations. Many of them even avoid watching movies or television shows, as they cannot identify the characters. Currently, research is going on to understand the neurological reason of the condition. Once that is identified, researchers can find out ways to help the affected individual recognize faces.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.