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How would you feel if you couldn’t recognise your own family?

24 August 2012

Prosopagnosia research The Independent has reported on the research done by BU’s Dr Sarah Bate on prosopagnosia.

Face blindness, or prosopagnosia, is a little known and little understood condition that affects thousands of people across the world - more people than Alzheimer’s and autism. Prosopagnosia can be caused by a stroke or brain injury, and recent research suggests it can be genetic, but some people are born with it or develop it, with no signs of brain impairment. In extreme cases, a person with face blindness can fail to tell the difference between a face and an object, or even recognise their own face.

Independent journalist Graham Mole reported on the building pressure for the NHS to recognise the condition and to get the public to understand it and sympathise with the sufferers.

Along with various case studies of people with the condition - including Duncan Bannatyne and Tom Stoppard - Mole contacted BU’s own leading researcher Dr Sarah Bate for comment. Dr Bate has just received funding to start a new national centre to study prosopagnosia and wants to develop a way of training sufferers with the condition, to help them with their symptoms.

As well as already being contacted by over 700 individuals asking to be tested, a number of parents who think their children might be sufferers have been in touch. In a first attempt to improve these children’s skills in face processing, a joint project is now underway with the University of St Andrews.

Dr Bate is hopeful that an effective prevention or cure could be found, especially if the condition is caught early on: “We’re wondering whether, if we could test children at, say, seven, there might be a chance that some training could help. It’s going to be an uphill battle but we do need these tests - just as they have them for dyslexia.”

She has also found that the British tradition of wearing school uniforms has aggravated the problem, saying “We had one boy of five and the only friend he could make - simply because her face was different - was a Chinese girl.” This highlights the potentially lonely existence of someone with prosopagnosia. But it’s not just children; Jo Livingston, a retired teacher who now raises awareness of the condition, only recognises her husband “because he has a beard and talks a lot.”

Articles such as this one are hopefully just the start of a new campaign to raise awareness of this misunderstood and socially exhausting condition. If you think you have face blindness and would like to contribute to the research then you can register on the prosopagnosia research website.

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