Can COVID-19 Cause Face Blindness? New study suggests link

What is “face blindness?” The rare neurological condition, known as prosopagnosia, makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to recognize faces, including familiar ones or even your own.

Recently, researchers observed a severe case of face blindness in a young woman after being infected with COVID-19 and battling long-term COVID. The case study, led by researchers at Dartmouth College, indicates that COVID-19 can cause serious and persistent neuropsychological problems, including deficits in facial recognition and navigational abilities.

Lung COVID has been linked to a number of neurological and psychological problems, including loss of smell and taste, brain fog, memory loss, psychosis, depression, and speech and language disorders. But the new peer-reviewed case study is the first report of prosopagnosia in a patient after infection with COVID-19, the study authors wrote.

In an article published in the journal Cortex, researchers describe a 28-year-old woman named Annie who had severe COVID-19 in March 2020 and experienced a relapse of symptoms two months later.

Annie, who worked part-time as a portrait artist and had normal facial recognition abilities prior to contracting COVID-19, began experiencing difficulty recognizing faces during her relapse of symptoms in 2020, and these deficits have persisted ever since, the researchers said. Describing her onset of prosopagnosia, Annie told investigators, “My father’s voice came from a stranger’s face.”

In the case study, she scored poorly on all four facial recognition tests used to diagnose prosopagnosia, but normally on other cognitive ability tests.

“Faces are like water in my head,” Annie said of her current ability to recognize people, adding that she now relies on voices, the study authors wrote. Annie also reported to researchers that since her COVID-19 infection, she has experienced “substantial” deficits in her ability to navigate, which often co-occur with prosopagnosia, the study authors wrote.

In addition to not recognizing familiar faces, Annie reported that she has trouble finding her way around familiar places and needs directions.

“The combination of prosopagnosia and navigational disabilities that Annie had caught our attention because the two deficits often go hand-in-hand after someone has had brain damage or developmental disabilities,” study co-author Brad Duchaine, Ph.D., a professor of psychological and brain sciences Dartmouth College, said in a press release.

To investigate whether other people were experiencing similar problems, the researchers surveyed 54 individuals who had had COVID for a long time about their neuropsychological abilities. A majority reported a decrease in visual recognition and navigation abilities, the authors wrote.

These findings indicate that COVID-19 can cause severe and selective neuropsychological impairment “similar to deficits seen after brain injury,” the study authors wrote, and that these problems are not uncommon in patients with long-term COVID.

Long COVID is characterized by a wide variety of symptoms and health problems that can persist for weeks, months or even years after infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s more commonly found in people with severe COVID-19, according to the CDC, but anyone infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus can also experience long-term COVID-19.

What is Face Blindness?

Face blindness is a condition defined as “difficulty recognizing facial identity in the absence of low-level visual problems or higher-level cognitive problems,” Duchaine previously told

Chances are you know someone who claims to never forget a face or someone who constantly reinvents themselves. Among the general population, there is a spectrum of facial recognition capabilities, Duchaine said. Most of us fall in the middle, but those with incredible facial recognition are called “super recognizers,” and those on the lower end are prosopagnosics, Duchaine said.

Last year, actor Brad Pitt revealed in an interview that he thinks he suffers from prosopagnosia.

The main symptom is the difficulty recognizing people’s faces, which means that people in your daily life that you should know can seem like complete strangers. People with severe prosopagnosia may have trouble recognizing their own face in the mirror or pointing themselves out in a group photo, previously reported.

“People with prosopagnosia are more likely to recognize family and close friends than people they aren’t as close to, but they still sometimes have trouble recognizing faces they’ve seen thousands of times,” Duchaine said.

Face blindness is not related to low vision or blindness — nor is it related to learning disabilities, intelligence or memory loss (due to dementia, for example), experts previously told

Scientists believe prosopagnosia is caused by a problem with a part of the brain in the temporal and occipital lobes called the fusiform gyrus, which plays a key role in facial recognition. “There’s a network of regions called face-selective areas … that react very strongly when faces are shown to people,” Duchaine said.

In people with prosopagnosia, these areas are either damaged from things like stroke or injury, known as acquired prosopagnosia, or didn’t develop normally from birth, known as developmental prosopagnosia, previously reported. (The doctor who treated Annie thinks it’s unlikely her condition was caused by a stroke, but because she couldn’t get an MRI for insurance reasons, stroke can’t be ruled out as a cause, the study authors noted.)

The part of the brain that deals with navigational ability — which the study found was diminished in many of the respondents with long COVID — is also in the temporal lobe, Duchaine noted.

It’s still not known exactly how COVID-19 affects the brain, but the researchers called on doctors to be aware of the possibility that it could cause problems with facial recognition and navigation.

“If it happens in the visual system, it’s likely that selective deficits also occur in some people due to problems in other brain regions,” Duchaine said in the press release.

There is no cure or specific treatment for prosopagnosia, but research is ongoing into training and rehabilitation programs to improve facial recognition, previously reported.

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