The Italian Almanac

Silvio Berlosconi

Italian News - October 1

A woman in Italy with a rare brain disease stopped recognising her family and objects such as fruits but consistently identified the country's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The case of the 66-year-old housewife, named only as V Z, was the strongest proof yet that the brain saw "icons" differently from faces, said Italian scientists who studied the case.

She suffered from what scientists call semantic dementia, a condition that is similar to, but not the same as, Alzheimer's disease. The woman's mental deterioration affected her recognition of faces, words and objects rather than events. Apart from Mr Berlusconi, she also knew who the late Pope John Paul was, but only when he was dressed in his papal robes. With Mr Berlusconi, she knew his name and that he was very rich, an owner of television channels and a politician.

"This case leads us to suppose that there may be a part of the brain that devotes itself to recognising special cases, icons, that are always presented in a certain way," said Prof Carlo Semenza of Trieste University, one of the study's authors. "In our patient, this little box in the brain was spared despite her having a very devastating disease."