New insights into face recognition in Alzheimer’s

Posted on 12th April 2016

Journal of Alzheimer’s disease: A qualitative impairment in face perception in Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence from a reduced face inversion effect

Researchers in Canada have found that people with Alzheimer’s have problems with facial perception, compared to healthy people of a similar age. The research was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on 11 April 2016.

The researchers studied 25 people with mild Alzheimer’s disease (average age 77), alongside 23 healthy people of a similar age. The volunteers completed tests of memory and thinking skills, as well as visual perception tests. The visual perception test, which wasn’t dependent on memory, was a pairs matching exercise. This included 36 pictures of unfamiliar faces and 36 pictures of cars – the right way up and upside down. The researchers found that people with Alzheimer’s had difficulties matching faces compared to cars. These difficulties were most marked when the faces were the right way up, suggesting that people perceive upright faces in a different way to when they’re looking at faces and objects upside down. People with Alzheimer’s also had difficulties with the more complicated aspect of the visual task – matching images that were the wrong way up.

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“The inability to recognise loved ones can be distressing for both the person living with dementia and their family and friends. We know that in addition to memory difficulties, people with Alzheimer’s experience challenges with visual perception and this study highlights the impact of the disease on facial recognition. The research suggests that people with Alzheimer’s can have trouble building a visual picture of a face in their mind and this is not entirely driven by underlying memory problems. It’s important that researchers understand the complex symptoms that people with dementia experience, as this will help with diagnosis, symptom management and ultimately treatments.”

Posted in Science news