A recent study published in the journal Cortex has shown that COVID-19 can cause difficulties in recognizing faces and navigating, with some patients exhibiting a condition known as “prosopagnosia” or face blindness. The study is the first to report such problems in patients who have recovered from COVID-19.
Research About Prosopagnosia and Navigational Difficulties
The research team worked with a 28-year-old woman called Annie, who contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 and experienced a relapse two months later. After the relapse, she began to notice difficulties with recognizing faces and navigation.
“When I first met Annie, she told me that she was unable to recognize the faces of her family,” Lead author of the study Marie-Luise Kieseler, and a graduate student in the department of psychological and brain sciences and member of the Social Perception Lab at Dartmouth said.
The study examined her and found that she had trouble recognizing familiar faces, which is a symptom of prosopagnosia. She also had difficulty learning new identities, according to her scores on the Cambridge Face Memory Test.
“Our results from the test with unfamiliar faces show that it wasn’t just that Annie couldn’t recall the name or biographical information of a famous person that she was familiar with, but she really has trouble learning new identities,” Kieseler said.
However, her test scores in face detection, face identity perception, and object recognition were normal, indicating that her problem was due to face memory deficits and not a more generalized impairment. The study also found that Annie had navigational deficits and had difficulty remembering where things were in the grocery store.
“This sort of dissociation like we’re seeing in Annie is seen in some people who have navigational deficits, where they can recognize where they are but when they’re asked where another place is relative to where they are right now, they struggle,” senior author Brad Duchaine, a professor of psychological and brain sciences said.
He further said, “They have trouble understanding relationships between different places, which is a step beyond recognizing the place that you’re in.”
Combination of Prosopagnosia and Navigational Deficits
“The combination of prosopagnosia and navigational deficits that Annie had is something that caught our attention because the two deficits often go hand in hand after somebody either has had brain damage or developmental deficits,” Brad Duchaine said.
He further said, “That co-occurrence is probably due to the two abilities depending on neighboring brain regions in the temporal lobe.”
How Common is Face Blindness?: Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is believed to affect up to 2.5% of the population. However, researchers say prosopagnosia may be on a spectrum and the number of cases may be far higher, estimating up to 1 in 33 people may meet the criteria fo … pic.twitter.com/nM5zbdoztT
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The researchers obtained self-reported data from 54 individuals who had long COVID with symptoms for 12 weeks or more, and 32 persons who had fully recovered from COVID-19.
Most respondents with long COVID reported that their cognitive and perceptual abilities had decreased since they had COVID, which was not surprising, but what was really fascinating was how severe and selective Annie’s problems were, indicating that there might be a lot of other people who have similar problems following COVID-19.
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