What you should know about prosopagnosia and how it affects lives of those living with it, By Aisha M Auyo


“She’s very arrogant. Who the hell does she think she is? ita ba kowa ba sai girman kai, wai Auyo ce zata nuna bata ganemu ba? Why will Auyo pretend not to recognise us after all our years together? (My friends, acquaintances, coursemates, and relatives).

“Aunty Hadiza, Aisha fa bata gaidamu, idan mun hadu dauke kai take, abin mamaki da takaici“. (My mother’s friends and colleagues complain with disappointment that I don’t greet them whenever we meet.)

“Anti-Binta, Aisha fa matar Abdullahi in ta gammu yi take kamar bata sanmu ba, yarinyar data taso a gabanmu? Bata san mune sirikanta ba, we can do and undo fa“. (My mother-in-law’s friends, relatives, and colleagues complain that I don’t respect them.)

“Baiwar Allah ban gane ki ba; I think you have mistaken me for someone else. We’ve never met”. (The strangers I greet with confidence and pride, thinking that I recognise someone I know).

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Does this sound familiar? I’ve been hearing these comments and remarks since my teens. Sometimes, I explain to the complainants that it’s my eye problem; some people believe me, some do not, and they will say she’s just a snub.

Then comments started coming from my friends or their parents that they’d greeted my mom, but she did not recognise them. I’ll apologise and explain to them that she finds it hard to identify people.

So when the complaints kept coming, I realised that mam and I have a common problem. So also Hafsa. The issue started eating me. I always pray that my eyes or memory should not fail me whenever I go out.

Then, greeting strangers become my new normal. I will see a person, assume that person is someone else, and even start exchanging pleasantries with them, only to see them surprised by my politeness, that they do not know me or the others I am talking about.

Then, it occurred to me that this wasn’t normal. Something must be wrong with us. We do great in school and can memorise and recall lessons and events, but why not people? I know we have sight problems, hence the use of constant eyeglasses, but why has our memory never failed us in school? Shebi na the same eye and brain we use to see people and read books?

So when my appointment with the optician came, I told him of this condition affecting my life. He explained that it’s a rare socio-medical condition that can be inherited or acquired later in life. I did my research and learned a lot about the condition.

Here are a few things you should know about Prosopagnosia; perhaps you may encounter someone with such a condition.

Prosopagnosia (face blindness or facial agnosia) is a neurological disorder characterised by the inability to recognise faces. The term comes from the Greek words for “face” and “lack of knowledge.”

Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with Prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognising familiar faces, while others cannot discriminate between unknown faces. In severe cases, people may be unable to distinguish a face as different from an object. Some people are unable to recognise their faces.

Prosopagnosia is only face blindness, not colour blindness or overall visual impairment. It is not the same as forgetfulness or sometimes struggling to find the right word.

This condition is unrelated to memory dysfunction, loss, impaired vision, or learning disabilities. The disorder is thought to result from congenital influence, damage, or impairment in a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the neural systems controlling facial perception and memory (right fusiform gyrus).

Congenital Prosopagnosia appears to run in families, making it likely to result from a genetic mutation or deletion. Some degree of Prosopagnosia is often present in children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome and may cause impaired social development.

Because there aren’t apparent brain lesions in people with congenital Prosopagnosia, scientists aren’t sure what causes it.

Prosopagnosia can be socially debilitating as individuals with the disorder often have difficulty recognising family members and close friends. They usually use other ways to identify people, such as relying on voice, clothing, or unique physical attributes.

Evidence suggests that people with Prosopagnosia may become chronically anxious or depressed because of the isolation and fear that come with the condition.

Navigating fundamental social interactions with Prosopagnosia can become fraught, and some people avoid contact with family members and other loved ones out of fear that they will not be able to recognise or address them adequately.

Sadly, there is no treatment for Prosopagnosia, but there are ways to manage it. People with Prosopagnosia often use features like hair colour, walking style, or voices to tell people apart.

So now you know, if you meet a person and he/she fails to recognise you, kindly be supportive and understanding. They may be suffering from this condition; trust me, it is debilitating for people suffering from it because It’s hard for others to understand. It may even cause depression in severe cases.

And remember, before you assume, learn the facts; before you judge, understand why!

Aisha Musa Auyo is a Doctorate researcher in Educational Psychology, a mother of three, a Home Maker, caterer and parenting/ relationship coach.

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