A new study has added prosopagnosia, or face blindness, to the growing list of brain problems caused by COVID-19. The study surveyed over 50 patients with long COVID, and found that most were struggling with the identification of faces. One patient, Annie (a pseudonym for privacy), had normal facial recognition before being diagnosed with COVID-19. The 28-year-old artist had to rely on Google map pins to navigate her way through familiar environments after losing her orientation. The neuropsychologists conducting the study confirmed that her difficulty with recognition is due to specific face memory defects but not wider issues.
Annie had lost her sense of smell and taste, struggled with breathing, and had high fever for a few days during her infection. After relapsing, the facial recognition and navigation problems have been accompanied by fatigue, concentration problems, and brain fog. She later developed balance issues and migraines as well. Due to insurance issues, Annie has not undertaken an MRI, so a stroke cannot be excluded as the cause of her symptoms.
Although it remains unclear how COVID-19 causes these neurological problems, the combination of prosopagnosia and navigational deficits often goes hand in hand, as these two abilities depend on homologous brain regions in the temporal lobe. While it has been known that there are broad cognitive issues caused by COVID-19, the case study of Annie highlights severe and highly selective impact of the disease, suggesting many others may suffer from severe and selective deficits following COVID.
The majority of people with long COVID that the researchers surveyed reported visible neurological difficulties in activities that were previously easy for them, not just a severe minority of cases. The study suggests that physicians and other healthcare workers should be aware of perceptual problems with face recognition and navigation that can be caused by COVID-19. The case study was published in Cortex, urging people to be cautious and informed about COVID-19’s neurological implications.