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What Is Prosopagnosia?

Everyone is guilty of forgetting the name of someone they've met before, although people are generally quite good at remembering faces, and especially those of friends and family at a glance. For some people, recognizing faces is an impossibility due the neurological disorder known as prosopagnosia (also called face blindness). For them, loved ones can appear to be strangers. People with prosopagnosia cannot recognize familiar faces and often cannot distinguish among the faces of strangers. They may also have trouble recognizing familiar places or objects or recognizing the difference between a person's face and another object. Some people with prosopagnosia even have difficulty recognizing themselves. Researchers estimate that one in 50 people may have some form of prosopagnosia.

Developmental prosopagnosia appears during childhood and may have genetic roots or arise as a result of a prenatal or childhood brain abnormality or damage. Children on the autism spectrum often display some degree of prosopagnosia, which may account for their social limitations. Acquired prosopagnosia can occur in older men and women after a brain injury, stroke, or the onset of degenerative disease.

Correcting Face Blindness

Studies suggest that the prevalence of developmental prosopagnosia is between 2 and 2.5 percent. There is no cure for prosopagnosia; treatment focuses on the development of compensatory skills for recognizing individuals, including friends, family members, and acquaintances, such as attending to cues like unique physical characteristics or voice. For example, a teacher may identify a student by his or her seat in the classroom or the backpack the student wears each day. People with prosopagnosia may draw inspiration from notable people who have successfully coped with the condition, including Oliver Sacks and Chuck Close.

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