Do you ever see a celebrity’s face on television or in a magazine and have trouble recognizing them? Difficulty remembering names is not always age-related, but it does become more pronounced as we get older. In an interesting new study, subjects were asked to identify famous faces such as Oprah Winfrey. Reported on the HuffPost50 blog, the study required participants to not just recognize the face, but name it, which then allows clinicians to spot very specific types of cognitive deficits.
The study, conducted at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center of Northwestern University, involved 30 people with “primary progressive aphasia,” a form of early onset dementia that affects language and 27 subjects without cognitive impairment. Study author Tamar Gefen explained that although similar tests have been performed previously, they did not always include stimuli that younger subjects would know. Gefen says, “This test includes images of faces, like Oprah that are appropriate for a younger generation,” she said.
Other famous faces included Princess Diana and Martin Luther King, Jr. The participants (average age 62) were awarded points for each face they were able to name. If unable to name the famous person, they were asked to describe them. Additional points were earned by giving at least two pertinent details about the person. After MRI results were evaluated, the study revealed those with early onset dementia performed much worse, with scores of 79 percent recognition and 46 percent naming the faces. The control group scored 97 and 93 percent, respectively.
Participants who couldn’t name faces were found to have more loss of brain tissue in the left temporal lobe and those unable to recognize the faces had loss of tissue on both sides of the temporal lobe. “In addition to its practical value in helping us identify people with early dementia, this test also may help us understand how the brain works to remember and retrieve its knowledge of words and objects,” said Gefen.
Gefen added that anyone struggling to identify a famous person or a very close loved one should be evaluated by a neurologist.