Suffering from Prosopagnosia? Try our hacks
Following on from our last post ‘Can’t Remember Names?‘, let’s move on to a related problem – poor facial recognition. Being unable to recall names on a regular basis can be embarrassing. If you can’t remember faces, it can cause even more problems.
If you genuinely find it hard to recognise faces, you’re sometimes perceived as rude when you walk past someone without greeting them. It can make social events difficult and, in the worst cases, causes sufferers to avoid such situations altogether.
The problem can be mild or, in the extreme, some people can find it difficult to recognise even the people who are closest to them. In the most extreme cases, people may fail to recognise their own faces in the mirror.
If you can’t remember faces, you’re not alone. The issue is relatively common. Let’s have a look at some of the problems that being unable to recognise faces causes as well as some techniques you can try to compensate:
Mildly poor facial recognition can sometimes be a result of meeting a lot of new people in a short space of time. You may also find you can’t remember faces easily if you don’t take much notice of those you are introduced to.
However, it can also have a medical cause and, as such, has a medical definition.
The term ‘prosopagnosia’ or ‘face blindness’ is the medical name for the condition. According to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterised by the inability to recognise faces. Prosopagnosia is also known as face blindness or facial agnosia. The term prosopagnosia comes from the Greek words for “face” and “lack of knowledge.” Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognising a familiar face; others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object. Some people with the disorder are unable to recognise their own face.”
According to research, the disorder can be caused by a brain injury or it can be something that an individual is born with. People who are born with the condition frequently aren’t aware they even have a problem until someone else points it out to them.
The Effects of Prosopagnosia
Severe prosopagnosia can lead sufferers to feel an overwhelming fear of social situations, leading to them isolate themselves. They may also have difficulties in personal relationships as they struggle to recognise certain facial expressions and read emotions. The condition can also manifest in problems with navigation and the ability to recognise objects and places. Following movies and television can also pose a problem as a sufferer finds it hard to follow a plot when they don’t recognise the actors from scene to scene.
If you think you may have prosopagnosia, it’s worthwhile speaking to a medical professional about your concerns. Your GP may refer you to a clinical neuropsychologist who will be able to offer a diagnosis.
However, if your problem remembering faces is mild and more of a simple frustration, try our helpful hacks:
Can’t Remember Faces – Try our Simple Hacks
Ruling out any medical reasons, there are some simple tricks you can implement next time you’re introduced to someone which may help you recognise their face in the future.
1. Visual Associations
Next time you’re introduced to someone, visualise them doing something you associate with them as an individual. For example, when you meet Mary from accounts, imagine her sitting with a calculator and a mountain of receipts. This will help form a neural pathway in your brain and boost your memory of the meeting.
2. Create Focus Points
Everyone has something that is unique to their face. When you’re introduced to someone, look carefully at their features. Note the colour of their eyes, the shape of their nose and lips. What stands out about their features? Focus on this point and use it as a reference.
3. Compensatory Visual Clues
Many people who struggle to recognise people by their faces ensure they look for other visual clues. These might be the way someone walks, the way they dress, their hairstyle or height and shape. Really study the people you meet and take mental notes of the way their whole body looks rather than just their face.
4. Auditory Clues
People aren’t only unique in the way they look; they are also unique in the way they sound. If you can’t remember faces, you may find that you’re excellent at remembering voices. When you’re introduced to someone new, listen to the way they speak. Do they have a regional accent? Is their voice high or low? Do they speak quickly or slowly? Listen carefully and make mental notes about the way they sound.
5. Connect with them on Social Media
Like many other cognitive issues, familiarity with something strengthens your memories of it. A good trick is to connect with new people on social media. Many social media platforms feature a profile picture of each user. You can review these photographs regularly to build strong neural pathways in your brain and improve your recall of their faces.
6. Tell People you Can’t Remember Faces
Not being able to remember faces can feel embarrassing. One tip from a prosopagnosia sufferer (the author!) is to tell people that you may struggle to recognise them in the future. Usually, you’ll find that people are interested in the issue and willing to help by reminding you who they are or even wearing name tags at social events. Many people who find it difficult to recognise faces worry about being perceived as rude. Telling people that you find facial recognition hard is a good way of relieving that worry.
Naomi Walker, who has Prosopagnosia, shares her story:
“I hadn’t heard of prosopagnosia until I was in my 30s – even though I had suffered from it all my life. I’d had problems recognising people, navigating and following the plot on films for as long as I could remember. I just thought I was more forgetful than other people, or more stupid! I hid my problems quite well, I didn’t tell anyone, and I developed ‘coping strategies’. Things like taking note of how people walk, how they sound and the colour of their eyes became natural to me, although these techniques were far from foolproof!
For the most part, I gave up on watching films – especially with other people around – as I felt so self-conscious every time I had to ask who someone was if they had changed their clothes or hairstyle from the last scene. I was an IT trainer, travelling around the country and training different people every day so my inability to recognise faces didn’t cause huge problems at work. Everyone else thought it was funny when I got myself into yet another embarrassing situation through not recognising someone. But, to me, it was frustrating and, at times, scary.”
Discovering the root of the issue
“Then, one evening, I was watching a film called Faces in the Crowd. The plot is about a woman who has prosopagnosia. Suddenly, everything that was happening in the storyline made sense to me! To demonstrate her condition, the director kept changing the actor playing her husband – my partner had to tell me this as I didn’t even notice when they switched!
After researching the condition online I felt an enormous sense of relief. I now had a name for the issue that had caused me so many problems for so many years. I visited my doctor, who referred me to a specialist who confirmed – I suffer from moderate prosopagnosia!
Now, it’s often one of the first things I tell people when I meet them. I tend to make a joke of it and say I’m just letting them know, so they don’t think I’m rude when I walk straight passed them in the street without any acknowledgement! Every single person I’ve told about my prosopagnosia has been interested and keen to help. Friends now introduce themselves to me in the supermarket and my family no longer sigh collectively when I ask them, yet again, ‘who’s that?’ during a film!”
We hope these hacks help you remember faces in future, but if you think you may have a serious case of Prosopagnosia, we recommend seeking professional help.
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