COVID-19 may rob the ability to recognize faces

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(ORDO NEWS) — When Annie first reunited with her family, it became clear that her illness had not left her alone yet.

“My father’s voice came from the face of a stranger,” Annie told researchers.

Annie (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) had normal facial recognition before she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March 2020.

After a few days, she began to recover, but a few months later she began to relapse. The study showed that “facial blindness” (prosopagnosia) can now be added to the growing list of problems.

More than 50 other patients suffering from long-term COVID were interviewed in the new study, and most found familiar faces more difficult to identify due to their infection.

“Faces are like water in my head,” Annie explained, describing how trying to remember a face is now like asking you to reproduce a Chinese character after one viewing when you’re unfamiliar with the language.

Previously, the 28-year-old part-time artist had to look at her subject perhaps once every 15 to 30 minutes while working on a portrait. Now Annie has to constantly go back.

Neuropsychologists at Dartmouth College Marie-Louise Kieseler and Brad Duchaine gave Annie a series of tests and confirmed that her recognition problems were related to specific facial memory defects, and not to broader problems.

But Annie also has trouble navigating in familiar surroundings, has difficulty getting her bearings, and has to rely on Google Map markers to navigate her car. Difficulties with navigation are also common in other people with prosopagnosia.

“The combination of prosopagnosia and navigational disabilities that Annie had caught our attention because the two deficits often go hand in hand after someone has had brain damage or developmental disabilities,” Dushaine explains.

During the infection, Annie lost her sense of smell and taste, had difficulty breathing, and had a high fever for several days.

After the relapse, problems with facial recognition and navigation were accompanied by other long-term symptoms of COVID, including fatigue, trouble concentrating and brain fog. Later, she also developed balance problems and migraines.

Due to insurance issues, Annie didn’t get an MRI.

“Thus, stroke cannot be ruled out as the cause of her symptoms, especially given the evidence for an increased risk of stroke with COVID-19,” the team warned in their case study.

“Our study highlights the perceptual problems associated with face recognition and navigation that can be caused by COVID-19 – something people should be aware of, especially doctors and other healthcare professionals,” Dushaine urges.

Most of the people with long-term COVID interviewed by the researchers reported marked neurological difficulties doing what they used to find easy.


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