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Not recognizing famous faces might be early sign of dementia

Not being able recognize famous faces such as Oprah Winfrey John F. Kennedy or Princess Diancould be sign early-onset dementiNorthwestern

Not being able to recognize famous faces such as Oprah Winfrey, John F. Kennedy or Princess Diana could be a sign of early-onset dementia, a Northwestern University study found.

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Updated: August 13, 2013 3:57PM

Not being able to recognize famous people such as Oprah Winfrey, Princess Diana or John F. Kennedy may be a way for doctors to identify early onset dementia in 40- to 65-year-olds, a Northwestern University study has found.

The study, published today in the journal Neurology, is based on 30 people with primary progressive aphasia, a type of early onset dementia that mainly affects language, and 27 people without dementia. The average age was 62.

Using the Northwestern University Famous Faces Test, study participants were given points for each picture of a famous face they could name. And if the subject could not name the face, he or she was asked to identify the famous person through description. Both groups underwent MRI brain scans as they looked at famous faces.

Unlike other tests that are already in existence, researchers noted that the 20 famous faces that the 40- to 65-year-olds were asked to identify, including Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley and Pope John Paul II, aren’t outdated.

Those who had early onset dementia scored on average 79 percent in recognizing famous faces and 46 percent in naming the faces, while those without dementia scored 97 percent in recognition and 93 percent on naming, according to the study, the study said.

In addition, brain imaging showed that people who had trouble putting names to the faces were more likely to have a loss of brain tissue in the left temporal lobe of the brain, while those with trouble recognizing the faces had tissue loss on both the left and right temporal lobe.

“The idea is that the doctor really has a challenging job when a patient walks into the clinic. They have to figure out first what deficit is that person having and to do that they have to test each of our different thinking domains,” said study co-researcher Emily Rogalski, assistant research professor at Northwestern’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “They have to use a great number of tools to do that, and we think that this tool may be worthwhile in putting into the tool belt.”

But she cautioned against people diagnosing themselves with early onset dementia like Alzheimer’s disease based on whether they can or can’t recognize famous people because diagnosing it is much more complex than that.


Twitter: @MonifaThomas1

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