Inability to recognise famous faces

Inability to recognise famous faces could be sign of dementia, study claims

The ability to recognise and name famous faces could be an indicator of a particular rarer form of dementia in people aged 40-65 according to a study published in Neurology on Tuesday 13 August 2013. The research, led by Northwestern University in Chicago found that people with early onset Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), a rare form of dementia, performed significantly worse on tests to identify black and white prints of people such as John F Kennedy, Princess Diana and Elvis Presley.

For the research, 30 people with PPA and 27 people with out dementia, all with an average age of 62 were given points for each of 20 faces they could name. If they could not name the face, they were asked to identify the person through description.

People with PPA scored an average of 79 per cent recognition and 46 per cent in naming faces compared to 97 per cent in recognition and 93 per cent on naming for the people without dementia.

Alzheimer’s Society comment:

‘We all forget a face from time to time. But when the ability to recognise someone as famous as Elvis or Diana becomes an issue it may be there is a deeper rooted cause. Tests like this could help identify rarer forms of dementia which might otherwise be overlooked. However problems with facial recognition are not a symptom of all types of dementia so more research is needed to see whether adaptations of this approach could have wider use.

‘There are 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK yet less than half of people receive a diagnosis. If people are worried about their memory they should visit their GP.’

Research reference: ‘Naming vs knowing faces in primary progressive aphasia’ by Tamar Gefen et al in Neurology


  • One in three people over 65 will develop dementia
  • Alzheimer’s Society research shows that 800,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia, more than half have Alzheimer’s disease. In less than ten years a million people will be living with dementia. This will soar to 1.7 million people by 2051
  • Alzheimer’s Society champions the rights of people living with dementia and the millions of people who care for them
  • Alzheimer’s Society works in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Alzheimer’s Society has a plan to deal with dementia. Help us support people to live well today and fight for a world without dementia tomorrow. We rely on voluntary donations to continue our vital work. You can donate now by calling 0845 306 0898 or visiting
  • Alzheimer’s Society provides a National Dementia Helpline, the number is 0300 222 11 22 or visit 
©  Alzheimers Society - 13th August 2013

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