Faces in the clouds reveal dementia

Faces in the clouds reveal dementia
Patients with a specific form of dementia see faces in places where no one else does. Special images can determine whether people are suffering from the dreaded disease.

Japanese scientists have found a remarkable new way to detect the brain disease 'Lewy body dementia'.

At least one in ten dementia patients in the world is affected by the particular variety of the disease. Nevertheless, it has been very difficult to diagnose it - until now. It turns out that the dementia reveals itself if the person with dementia sees faces in places where healthy people can not spot them - for example, clouds, flowers or rooftops.

'The special form of dementia is characterized by patients getting hallucinations. But a doctor can not be sure to get the opportunity to examine a patient during a hallucination - as they come randomly. So the Japanese wondered if they could show the demented some special images that created hallucinations that healthy people did not experience.

It is quite common that people see faces in places where there really are no faces. The strange phenomenon is called 'pareidolia', and it is because the brain error-decodes the visual impressions it receives.

In a case of pareidolia, the brain produces a context that is not there. Often it is a face we notice in the chaotic surroundings, because we humans have learned to decode faces from when we were very young.

With that knowledge in mind the Japanese researchers made what they called a "pareidolia test '. In the test there were 25 images, among other, birds in the sky, flowers and a leopard.

"You could see faces in many of the images, but healthy people would say to themselves that there were no real faces. However people with dementia, would be convinced that they actually saw real faces "

"Patients with Lewy body dementia often see hallucinatory images in places where people usually do not focus their attention. For example, in bedroom corners, trees in the background or the roofs of neighboring houses," the researchers write in the scientific article.

The experiment has only been done once, but the results suggest that the Japanese have made an interesting discovery.

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