A Simple Way to Assess the Possibility of Dementia

August 30, 2013

It’s common to forget someone’s name if we have met them only a handful of times, or if we meet them out of the normal context.  However, if a senior consistently has difficulty recognizing the faces of celebrities and famous people, like Oprah Winfrey or Jimmy Carter, it may be that he or she is showing early signs of dementia.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers gathered two groups of individuals with an average age of 62.  One group suffered from progressive aphasia, which is a dementia affecting language skills.  The other group had no dementia.

Researchers showed each group pictures of famous people, such as Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King, Lucille Ball, John F. Kennedy, Princess Diana and Albert Einstein.  If participants were unable to identify these people by name, they were asked to describe who they were.  Finally, all participants underwent MRI brain scans.

It probably comes as no surprise that those individuals who had early onset dementia were less able to identify famous faces compared to those who did not.

Significantly, participants who found it challenging to name the famous faces showed a greater likelihood of tissue loss in the left temporal lobe of the brain. Participants who could not recognize the faces at all were more likely to have tissue loss in both the right and left lobes.  In light of these results, if you wonder if your loved has dementia, you may wish to focus on how well he or she can recognize people on TV or on the covers of magazines.

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