Recently after reading a post, Stef asked this list of questions. They are great questions so frequently asked that I wanted to share the answers through a new post. For an uplifting read, I encourage you to take time to look at her blog, http://smilekiddo.wordpress.com/ soon, too. These are very brief answers to the questions. Please, I encourage you to ask more questions if you would like further clarification.
You don’t recognize your own face, and you don’t recognize the faces of new people; do you recognize the faces of your family members? If not, how do your kids reconcile that? (They are very young, right?)
My daughters are 8 and 9. They understand that I have a considerable loss of sight. This saves me. When I ask which adult is their teacher or a classmate’s name, they assume that I just cannot see well enough. They do not realize that I cannot identify these familiar people. I have decided it will be best not to let them know the extent of this problem until they are older. It is hard enough for adults to understand this condition let along young children.
Do you remember people that you meet post-stroke? You won’t remember them by face, but if you begin talking to them, do you remember them by voice, and then remember that you know who they are, and things about them?
I do remember people from before my stroke if they have not changed in the way they look. My parents, for instance, I recognize my father because he has changed very little in the past seven years. My mother no longer colors her hair. Her face and hairstyle have also changed. She is no longer familiar to me. At times when returning to my hometown, I see people I had gone to school with. Some of these people I recognize while others are complete strangers to me; however, if you show me photos from my senior year book, I can name all my classmates. Most people have altered their looks since my brain injury due to aging; therefore, I will no longer recognize them. Sadly, I know someday all faces will alter enough that everyone will become strangers. I am prepared for this. I excel at recognizing different clues that individuals hold. For example, I can recognize people from the back possibly a little better than from their front view. Then I concentrate more on their body shape, hair style and gait without being distracted by the unfamiliar face. I also have learned to notice differences in sounds. I remember voices, if someone walks heavy, if someone breathes loud always through their mouth or if someone shuffles their feet while walking, I can instantly connect a name of the person with these unique qualities. In losing nearly all of my sight at first, I gained the gift of listening. Most people hear things, but rarely do people gain the amazing gift to truly listen.
What coping strategies do you use (or perhaps a better way to ask is “what helpful strategies do you employ?”) to help you address this whole issue?
I carefully watch a person’s eyes and their body language. You would be amazed at what is possible to learn from someone through paying attention to these two fairly obvious details.
When someone is walking in close proximity, they will at least glance at you. Someone absorbed deep in their own thoughts or avoiding interactions with others will make certain to not look in your direction at all while passing you. If someone is walking towards you, glances over your face quickly and then diverts their eyes away, this person is not likely to know you. If someone looks at your eyes, holds that contact and generally will tilt their chin up a small degree, they are preparing to talk to you or acknowledge you some way. If this person nods their head and says hi without slowing down, they are polite but probably not familiar. If they slow their pace and ask another question such as “How are you”, they want to pursue some conversation with you. This person may know you. Now is the time you can allow other clues to take over and help find out how you know this person and who they are.
To date, this is my best explanation of face blindness (prosopagnosia): I see faces just like you do. I recognize the placement of eyes, mouth, etc. I grew up in a community composed of mainly Caucasian people. I did not have much exposure to other races. If, during adolescents, I had been taken to Japan and put on a train with no Caucasian and only Oriental people, I would notice the faces were different yet see many similarities. Now say I was given the name of the people sitting in the rows in front of and behind me with time to talk to these people. If you were to then take us all off the train and I was asked to place a name tag over the pictures of these individuals, even with “normal” cognitive skills, I would have had difficulty. While I could see the difference, the subtle difference created by the different facial structure would slightly hamper my ability. I still saw the face; I just have more difficulty holding onto the differences that I am not used to. This is my world now but at a much more extreme level. I see faces normally. My mind just does not allow the subtle, or great, differences to be recorded. If you and I were speaking and then turn away from each other, I am no longer able to hold an image of your face within my mind. You become another face I never see again.
Thank you, Stef, for taking the time to ask these questions. I invite anyone to respond to posts with questions that may be on their mind!