Can COVID-19 cause face blindness? A new study suggests a link

What is “face blindness?” The rare neurological disorder, also known as prosopagnosia, makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to recognize faces, including familiar faces or even your own.

Recently, researchers observed a severe case of face blindness in a young woman following infection with COVID-19 and a battle with long COVID. The case study, led by researchers at Dartmouth College, indicates that COVID-19 can cause serious and persistent neuropsychological problems, including deficits in facial recognition and navigation skills.

Long COVID has been linked to a number of neurological and psychological issues, including loss of smell and taste, brain fog, memory loss, psychosis, depression, and speech and language disorders. But the new peer-reviewed case study is the first report of prosopagnosia in a patient following COVID-19 infection, the study authors wrote.

In an article published in the journal Cortex, researchers describe a 28-year-old woman named Annie who had severe COVID-19 in March 2020 and suffered a relapse of symptoms two months later.

Annie, who worked part-time as a portrait artist and had normal facial recognition abilities before contracting COVID-19, began having difficulty recognizing faces when her symptoms relapsed in 2020, and these deficits have persisted ever since. , according to the researchers. Describing her onset of prosopagnosia, Annie told researchers, “My father’s voice came out of a stranger’s face.”

In the case study, she performed poorly on the four facial recognition tests used to diagnose prosopagnosia, but normally on other tests of cognitive ability.

“Faces are like water in my head,” Annie said of her current ability to recognize people, adding that she now relies on voices, the study authors wrote. Annie also reported to researchers that, since her COVID-19 infection, she has experienced “substantial” deficits in her navigational abilities, which frequently coexist with prosopagnosia, the study authors wrote.

In addition to not recognizing familiar faces, Annie reported having trouble finding her way around familiar places and needing directions.

“The combination of prosopagnosia and navigational deficits that Annie had is something that caught our attention because the two deficits often go together after someone has had brain damage or developmental deficits,” co- Study author Brad Duchaine, Ph.D., professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College, said in a press release.

To determine if other people experienced similar issues, the researchers interviewed 54 people who had long COVID about their neuropsychological abilities. A majority reported a decline in visual recognition and navigation skills, the authors wrote.

These results indicate that COVID-19 can cause severe and selective neuropsychological impairments “similar to the deficits observed after brain injury”, the study authors wrote, and that these problems are not uncommon in patients with AD. a long COVID.

Long COVID is characterized by a wide range of symptoms and health conditions that can persist for weeks, months or even years after infection, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is found more often in people who have had severe COVID-19, according to the CDC, but anyone who has been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus can also experience long COVID.

What is face blindness?

Face blindness is a condition defined as “a problem recognizing facial identity in the absence of low-level vision problems or higher-level cognitive problems,” Duchaine previously told

Chances are you know someone who claims they’ll never forget a face or someone who constantly reintroduces themselves. Among the general population, there is an array of facial recognition abilities, Duchaine said. Most of us fall in the middle, but those with incredible facial recognition are called “super-recognizers,” and those at the lowest end of the scale are prosopagnosics, Duchaine said.

Last year, actor Brad Pitt revealed in an interview that he thought he had prosopagnosia.

The main symptom is difficulty recognizing people’s faces, which means people in your daily life who you should know may look like total strangers. People with severe prosopagnosia may have trouble recognizing their own face in the mirror or showing themselves in a group photo, previously reported.

“People with prosopagnosia are more likely to recognize family and close friends than to recognize people they aren’t as close to, but they still sometimes have trouble recognizing faces they’ve seen thousands of times. “, said Duchaine.

Face blindness is not linked to poor eyesight or blindness – nor to learning disabilities, intelligence or memory loss (due to dementia, for example), experts have previously said at

Scientists believe prosopagnosia is caused by a problem with a part of the brain in the temporal and occipital lobes called the fusiform gyrus, which plays a key role in facial recognition. “There is a network of regions called face-selective zones… which react very strongly when faces are shown to people,” Duchaine said.

In people with prosopagnosia, these areas are either damaged by things like stroke or injury, i.e. acquired prosopagnosia, or do not develop normally from birth, i.e. ie developmental prosopagnosia, previously reported. (The doctor who treated Annie thinks it’s unlikely her condition was caused by a stroke, but since she couldn’t have an MRI for insurance reasons, a stroke is not can be ruled out as a cause, the study authors noted.)

The part of the brain that deals with navigation skills — which the survey found were diminished in many respondents with long COVID — is also located in the temporal lobe, Duchaine noted.

It’s still unclear exactly how COVID-19 affects the brain, but researchers have urged doctors to be aware of the potential it can cause problems with facial recognition and navigation.

“If this occurs in the visual system, it is likely that selective deficits due to problems in other areas of the brain also occur in some people,” Duchaine said in the press release.

There is no specific cure or treatment for prosopagnosia, but research is being done on training and rehabilitation programs to improve facial recognition, previously reported.

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