U of M Researching Treatment for 'Face Blindness'

Updated: 10/07/2013 7:59 AM KSTP.com By: Leah McLean

In a small lab at the University of Minnesota, researchers are trying to find a way to treat a mysterious condition that affects millions of people. Many first notice it as children but don't know what to do when they can't remember family or friends. It's estimated one in every 50 people have trouble remembering faces. Face Blindness is a condition few people have even heard of.

Stephanie Chase is a research assistant at the University of Minnesota. But she's also on a personal mission. "I can't picture my mom or myself in the mirror," said Stephanie Chase. "I can't think of a face at all." She has face blindness. Her vision is fine, but the part of the brain that recognizes and remembers the unique features of a face doesn't work the same for her.

She works with Dr. Albert Yonas in a research lab at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Yonas says the technical term is prosopagnosia, a failure to be able to remember a face. He is working to find a treatment. He's particularly focused on helping children, adding, "I don't think parents know what to do." So few people know about face blindness, just diagnosing it can be a challenge.

Dr. Yonas wants to raise awareness and create a treatment. He's working to develop a computer game that would train the brain to remember. But he says it has to be fun so children will want to play. "My immediate goal is the development of it, the testing, the piloting, demonstrating that it's effective." If he can do all that, he'll start focusing on making it available to those who need it, although it could be years before it's widely available.

For now, Chase is glad to be part of the research team. She was just diagnosed with Face Blindness three years ago. She's 24 now and looking at childhood pictures with her family, she says the diagnosis explains so much. "My earliest memory is when I'm 5 but it really started becoming apparent in high school. There were 700 kids and I didn't know anybody."

Now that she knows why she has these issues she can better deal with them. She'll just tell people about her Face Blindness so they won't be offended when she fails to recognize them. She hopes one day to overcome the issue. But for now she says she's privileged to work with Dr. Yonas at the University of Minnesota to help come up with a treatment.

Click here if you want to learn more about Face Blindness and how to seek treatment.