Patients With One Form of Early-Onset Dementia Can’t Recognize Famous Faces

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Famous Faces: Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball, Princess Diana, John F. Kennedy

Can you name these celebrities?

Everyone has those moments where they can’t seem to remember the name or face of a celebrity. They seem familiar. You may have even seem them in entire seasons of television, but suddenly it is gone. You just can’t name them. It is the exact scenario IMDB is for.

That scenario probably feels common for everyone, but when it becomes consistent, it may be a warning sign of early-onset dementia, especially for those ages 40 to 65. A new study shows that people of that age group with a certain type of early-onset dementia are consistently unable to name or sometimes even recognize such famous people as Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey, John F. Kennedy, Lucille Ball, and Elvis Presley.

“People with this type of dementia consistently forget names of famous people they once knew — it’s more than forgetting a name or two of a famous person,” said senior author Emily Rogalski, an assistant research professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

According to USA Today, dementia acts here as an umbrella term that describes neurodegenerative diseases that cause changes in thinking abilities that interfere with daily activities. Early-onset dementia is a specific form of dementia which typically affects those younger than 65 and is linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

The study worked with 30 dementia patients who had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a specific type of early-onset dementia. They were compared against 27 control participants. Primary progressive aphasia typically damages language skills and gets continuously worse over time.

All the participants were asked to identify 20 famous people from black-and-white photographs, and they were rewarded points if they could state the exact name of the individual shown. If they could not give the name, they were then asked if they could give relevant details about that person, and were assigned points based on how much they could recall. All patients also underwent MRI brain scans.

According to their findings, published in the latest issue of Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people with primary progressive aphasia could nameless than half (46 percent) of the celebrities, and scored an average of 79 percent in recognizing them and naming characteristics. Those without the type of dementia scored 93 percent on naming the personalities, and 97 percent in recognizing them.

The researchers also found that the patients who struggled with naming the celebrity were more likely to have a loss of tissue on the left side of the brain. Participants who were unable to recognize the famous people at all were likely to have tissue loss on both sides of the brain.

“This simple test can be used by doctors in their evaluation of patients to figure out what areas of thinking may be compromised,” Rogalski says.

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