A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago suggests that middle-aged people who struggle to recognize culturally-relevant and age appropriate famous faces are at an increased risk of early-onset dementia.
The researchers recruited around 30 people with an average age of 62 years and who had primary progressive aphasia. They were shown black and white images of 20 famous faces, including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Princess Diana, who were relevant for middle-aged patients. Their responses were then compared with a control group of 27 people who did not have any dementia.
Each participant was awarded points for the number of faces accurately recognized and in cases where they were unable to recognize a face, they were asked to identify the person through description while additional points were given providing at least two relevant details about the person. The study has been published in the journal Neurology.
The researchers found that people with dementia scored just 79 percent in recognition and 46 percent in naming the famous faces compared 97 percent in recognition and 93 percent in naming by the control subjects. The researchers said that failure to recognize faces and inability to put names to faces were two different things.
"So those two processes, naming versus recognizing, are actually very distinct and sometimes they're lumped together. It has clinical significance for neurologists. Now they can give this test and they can predict that if they have naming problems, then that's probably a left-sided problem. But if they have recognition problems, then it's probably a bilateral problem", lead researcher Tamar Gefen said.