Bill Harvey: The small faces
He shares his fascination for obscure conditions in light of this week's aphantasia feature
Author: Bill Harvey
Last year, we published an article discussing prosopagnosia, the condition leaving people unable to identify or recognise faces. Now, I have never been one for celebrity endorsements, but I was surprised to hear a certain Brad Pitt revealing that he has always suffered from the condition, or ‘face blindness’ as he described it.
In the clinic where I work, we are occasionally asked to assess people who have recently had a stroke. Many have motor impairment and a significant number have homonymous field loss. Some of the more subtle perceptual consequences, such as prosopagnosia, which can result from stroke damage to the right parietal lobe, are more difficult to confirm. I have tried using the Corvist Cortical Vision Screening Tool, where the patient is shown an array of faces and has to place them in order of age, but the results have never been impressive.
The publicity around Pitt’s condition has been useful in highlighting the significant number of people with the developmental form of the condition who have been unable to process faces from childhood rather than due to a stroke or brain injury. Indeed, it is now thought that prosopagnosia affects as much as 2% of the population, often associated, but not always, with other conditions such as Asperger’s.
I was also interested to hear about Justin Bieber’s recent diagnosis of Ramsay Hunt syndrome causing facial paralysis. I love learning of obscure conditions. Throughout my twenties, I had a white fleck at the front of my hair just above another patch of white on one eyebrow. I was convinced I had Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease and waited for the iritis to come on. As it turned out, I was just growing old unevenly.
I hope you enjoy our feature on aphantasia, it is more common than you think.
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