Prosopagnosia (from the Greek for “face” and “not knowing”) is a cognitive disorder whereby the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing and intellectual functioning remain intact. Also known as “face blindness,” it results from acute brain damage, and in a minority of cases is a congenital condition. Sufferers may be unable to identify even close family members and are often unaware of their problem.Psychologists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba recently published an article in the journal Neuropsychologia that explains how faces are identified differently than other objects and suggests mechanisms that can enable sufferers to overcome their disability.Normal people hone the skill of identifying faces throughout their lives; a holistic mechanism in their brains quickly and simultaneously processes details of the face, such as eyes, mouth and nose, instead of each detail separately. It is carried out automatically and effortlessly.Cognitive psychologists and brain scientists long struggled with the question of whether identifying faces is a unique mechanism or just one of several visual skills such as identifying cars or birds, for example.BGU psychology Prof. Galia Avidan and doctoral student Nili Weiss, along with University of Haifa PhD student Alit Mardo, examined whether training can help identify numerous types of objects, including faces.They got the idea for the study when a psychology student suffering from prosopagnosia joined the lab. Avidan learned that the student had worked on a horse farm since the age of seven and learned how to identify horses even though she had great difficulty identifying human faces. Using functional MRI, the team examined the student’s brain function and located brain areas that have a major role in identifying both objects and human faces. They expect that mechanisms they discovered can be used to teach the student how to identify human faces as well.VITAMIN D COULD HELP CUT ELDERLY FALLS Every year, about a third of all older adults living at home fall, with one in 10 falls resulting in serious injury. Even if an injury does not occur, the fear of falling can lead to reduced activity and a loss of independence.New US research has shown that vitamin D plays a key role in maintaining muscle integrity and strength, and may even reduce the risk of falls.Homebound elderly, a generally vulnerable population due to poor dietary intake and nutrition-related health conditions as well as decreased exposure to sunlight, are at increased risk for low vitamin D levels, according to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, who published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.“Falls in homebound older people often lead to disability and placement in a nursing home,” said gerontology professor Denise Houston, the lead author of the study. “One or our aging center’s goals is to help people maintain their independence and live safely at home for as long as possible.”Participants in the meals-on-wheels program in Forsyth County, North Carolina, were recruited to take part in a five-month, single-blind randomized trial.Sixty-eight study participants received either a monthly vitamin D supplement of 100,000 international units or placebo delivered with their meal. The study included the participants’ history of falls and their fear of falling, blood tests at the beginning and at end of the trial to measure a biomarker for vitamin D in the blood, plus a monthly diary recording falls during the trial period.At the beginning of this pilot study, the research team found that more than half of the participants had insufficient concentrations of vitamin D in the blood, while less than a quarter had concentrations in the optimal range. The study showed that the monthly vitamin supplement increased the concentrations of vitamin D in the blood from insufficient to sufficient levels in all but one of the 34 people who received it and to optimal levels in all but five people.In addition, people in the vitamin D group reported approximately half the falls of those in the control group.“Although these initial findings are encouraging, we need to confirm the results in a larger trial,” Houston said.