Gradually losing the ability to classify specific animals?

I remember seeing a documentary which had an oldish man who would go to a research lab and look at pictures of animals and say what they are. Over time, he got worse and worse at classifying them. I think he first lost the ability to classify unusual animals and later began to lose the ability to classify more common animals - it was as if he first was losing his ability to classify animals he learnt about as a child and teenager and then began to lose the ability to classify animals that he would have learnt about as a toddler…
I think on the show he wasn’t aware that he couldn’t remember what it was… he was sure he was right. I think he called a duck a “bird”.
The show might have been Susan Greenfield’s “Brain Story”…
I’ve been unable to find anything about this on the internet…

Does anyone know of anything related to this thing I saw or people with similar conditions? (where they lose the ability to classify specific things - and aren’t aware of it - not necessarily going from most recently learnt object to earliest learnt object)

It sounds like Alzheimers to me. I believe one of the symptoms is losing the ability to put the proper name to a formerly known object or person. I don’t have any real medical training, though. Anyone else?

Zoogirl is exactly right. The rule of thumb is if you forget where you put your car keys you are normal. If you have the car keys and forget what they are for you have Alzheimers.

I think a gradual loss of some mental abilities with age is probably more common than people realize. It’s just that unless it’s a crucial ability people adjust to it with various coping mechanisms or it’s chalked up to elderly “eccentricity”.

I myself am only 42, but already I have to treat my own mind like an unreliable computer. One disturbing thing is that I’ve lost the ability to pick objects out of a jumble. If I have to say, find a spatula in our kitchen drawers, as often as not I have to pick all the objects out of the drawer one by one until the spatula appears in my hand.

At least I can still comprehend just how fallible I am. When that goes, then I’ll really be in trouble.


I can understand that. I’ve never been very good at recognising objects in unfamiliar orientations. I’ve more than once thoroughly (so I think) searched the whole kitchen shelf, and eventually had to ask my wife what happened to the ketchup bottle - then she showed me it was in plain sight, but lying on its side. I have read (no cite) that it’s a characteristically male problem.

I wouldn’t worry about it too much Lumpy and raygirvan, I had that same problem even when I was twelve. Just ask my dad: I could spend ten minutes looking in the tool box for a wrench and not see it sitting there right in front of me.

i’ve heard you peak somewhere in your 20’s/30’s, then slowly get less reliable. No i don’t have a cite. But the OPer sounds like alzheimers.

There are other, similar conditions associated with a variety of disorders. For example, certain types of autism cause face blindness: the inability to identify people based on their facial features, or the inability to identify emotions based on facial features. I don’t remember the proper name for these symptoms, but they’re potentially related to being unable to properly identify animals.

The brain is awfully complex; it’s amazing what can go wrong with it.