‘Face blindness is a thing’: what it is and how people adapt

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — How many times have you thought, “I’m so bad at remembering people’s names?” Imagine being unable to remember faces, not just those of the people you meet, but also those of your colleagues, friends, and even family.

Michael Furman, 22, works as a production assistant at WOOD TV8. He is full of compliments. His colleagues will tell you that he always comments on something they wear. Furman’s compliments are sincere, but his kind words serve another purpose as well.

“Commenting and saying, ‘Oh my God, you have a nice shirt on today,’ helps me think, ‘This person is wearing this shirt today. I get it. That’s who it is said Furman.

Furman has a condition called prosopagnosia. It is also known as face blindness.

“I think it’s one of those very fascinating conditions that really shows how complicated the brain is,” said Dr. Nick Lannen, a neurologist at Corewell Health in Grand Rapids.

Lannen said Furman was not alone. Face blindness is actually a relatively common condition.

“It’s not that they can’t see the face, it’s that they have trouble putting all the pieces of a face together to recognize it as that individual,” Lannen said.

Lannen said face blindness can develop as part of other larger conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. But there are basically two types of disease: one can result from damage to part of the brain and the other is simply hereditary.

Michael Furman and his mother. (Courtesy)

“I was just casually talking to my mom about struggling with names and tracking and strategies for remembering people’s names,” Furman said. “She was like, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, face blindness is a thing,’ and walked me through all of its symptoms and everything that goes with it. I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s totally makes sense.'”

Furman said the photos help. He has always been drawn to photos of friends and good memories. They help him remember. Another coping mechanism is something he calls his name book.

“As soon as I meet people, I start the name book on my phone. I connected to a certain memory of someone that has nothing to do with their face and I write down their name and the nickname I give them,” Furman said.

Just like Furman wasn’t always aware he was blind and wasn’t always comfortable talking about it. He confided in friends at college, who responded in the kindest way possible.

“It was amazing because after I told them, they secretly went behind my back and took Polaroid photos of each other and put them on a big board with their names written on them. gave like a great poster to hang,” Furman said.

Although Furman was never officially diagnosed, his mother was. Lannen said most people with the disease will never be diagnosed, but if they describe the symptoms, you have to take them at their word.

“It’s one of those things that falls on a gradient and a bell curve. So there are people who can be a little below average with faces and you should trust them when they report that and be sympathetic,” Lannen said.

Furman takes his love of pictures and works towards a career in film. He said one of his biggest fears is insulting someone by not remembering who they are. Lannen said it’s important for the rest of us to have empathy when things like this happen.

“It’s one of those very fascinating conditions, it’s an underestimated condition, it’s a difficult condition to treat, but it’s definitely a real condition,” Lannen said.

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