- AARP - https://blog.aarp.org -

Recognize These Folks? If Not, You May Be in Trouble…

256px-YoungElvisPresley Former Talk Show Host



Can you name the famous faces above? If not, you may be headed for a type of early dementia.

A new study suggests that a simple test that measures the ability to recognize and name famous people may help doctors identify a type of early dementia in people ages 40 to 65.

Researchers at Northwestern University tested 30 people with primary progressive aphasia, a type of dementia that first affects language, and 27 people without dementia. The test includes black-and-white photos of 20 cultural icons, including John F. Kennedy, Lucille Ball, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr., as well as those above: Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.

Study participants, average age 62, were given points for each face they could name. Test-takers got partial credit for first or last names and by providing details about the stars, politicians, celebrities and royalty. The two groups also had MRI scans.

The researchers, who published results in the journal Neurology, found those who had the primary progressive aphasia performed worse on the test, recognizing about 80 percent of famous faces and being able to name less than half of them. Dementia-free participants recognized 97 percent of the famous mugs and could name 93 percent of them.

Tama Gefen, lead author of the study and a researcher with Northwestern’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said the test not only could help identify people with early dementia, it may also help scientists understand how the brain works to retrieve knowledge of words and objects.

Gefen said they’ve updated the test for boomers by replacing older historical figures or movie stars with newer megastars like Oprah Winfrey. About half of the images on the test are of luminaries still living. “We needed to update the faces so they were relevant for a younger generation,” she told USA Today.

Primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of early-onset dementia, tends to strike men and women between the ages of 40 and 65. It initially disrupts language skills, making it difficult for patients to find the right words for what they want to say. Cognitive function is not affected at first, although as the disease progresses, memory is impaired and patients may develop other neurological conditions.


Photo credits: Oprah Winfrey by Vic. Bill Clinton by Roger H. Goun. Elvis Presley by By Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons.