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.
‘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