MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Imagine you couldn’t recognize people’s faces, and even your own family looked unfamiliar. It’s a puzzling and disabling neurological disorder that prevents sufferers from being able to recognize the faces of people that they see every day.
The rare disorder is known as prosopagnosia or face blindness. It doesn’t cause victims to forget people but it does make it impossible for them to recognize them.
“I literally have walked right past my kids on the street and not known it was them,” said James Cooke.
“I don’t forget people, I just can’t recognize them,” Dori Frame said. “I have shaped my life so I don’t have to come in contact with people and rely on recognizing people.”
The disorder can prevent a victim from being able to recognize a person who they have known for years.
“The first 49 years of my life, I could walk in a room and just scan the room and know who I knew and who I didn’t know. Now, I don’t even bother looking,” James Cooke said.
Experts say the disorder only affects 3 percent of the population and that while some people are born with it, others may develop it later in life as a result of an accident or other medical condition.
“Stroke, traumatic brain injury, degenerative causes,” were all among factors listed by Dr. Todd Feinberg, a neurologist, as possible causes of prosopagnosia.
Frame said that she has developed a system of techniques to help her distinguish different people. She uses the sound of a person’s voice or distinctive features like short hair, or a crooked mouth to identify people.
Help may be on the way for sufferers in the form of specially trained dogs who can recognize family members and close friends while out in public or at large social functions.
“All I have to say is, ‘find Greg’ and he’s off like a shot through the crowd,” Frame explained.
The disorder can be difficult to deal with for those who are close to its victims as well.
“I really didn’t understand at first. What do you mean you can’t recognize me? You’re my dad,” said Cooke’s son, Tommy.
There is no cure or treatment for face blindness and some people may not even realize that they have it.
More information on face blindness is available from the Prosopagnosia Research Center.