Imagine a world where your closest loved one does not feel like your loved one at all. Think about always having the feeling that you are being deceived, that an identical imposter has replaced your closest friend or family member. If you can imagine the confusion, sadness and fear that is associated with these feelings then you have channeled one of many weird mental disorders out there. Some call it Capgras Delusion, others Capgras Syndrome, and according to Psychiatry, it is an incredibly common disorder. What exactly is this odd disease?
What is Capgras Delusion?
Capgras Delusion is one of many strange mental disorders in the same category as dementia. With this disorder, the affected individual believes that their loved ones (their spouse, children, parents, close friends or relatives) have been replaced by a doppelganger or a replacement person posing as their loved one. This problem, which is classified as delusional misidentification, sometimes even causes a person to believe this about their pet and even themselves sometimes in rare cases. It is considered to be the opposite of de ja’ vu.
How Was it Discovered?
French psychiatrist Joseph Capgras co-described the disorder in 1923 with assistant Jean Reboul-Lachaux. Patient Madame M. experienced these delusions with her husband and a few other close relatives. The pair first called the disorder “the illusion of look-alikes”. Although it was originally dismissed as a psychiatric disorder, it is now diagnosed as a neurological disorder.
Who Does it Affect?
Part of the problem, is that capgras delusions can happen to anyone. Although nobody is immune to these delusions, they most frequently occur in people who have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, people who experience brain injuries or elderly people with dementia. Just like dementia, capgras can onset at any time and does not necessarily have to be caused by one particular issue or problem. Women are also more likely to develop the disorder than men are, and when it was first discovered it was dismissed as a disorder that only women would develop. Keep an eye on individuals, especially if they suffer from any of those related disorders and be sure you are aware of the signs and symptoms of Capgras. If left untreated, this disorder can cause violence in the afflicted and sometimes even death for the source of the delusion.
What Causes it?
According to the majority of studies that have been conducted on this issue, nobody is one hundred percent certain of the capgras delusion causes. Here are a few pieces of information regarding the theories of the cause of Capgras delusion.
- This disorder is best understood by examining the neuroanatomical damages that are often associated with the disorder.
- Originally, the disorder was linked to another disorder called prospagnosia, the inability to recognize specific faces. As time went on, studies proved that there was no definite link between the two disorders, as many people with Capgras Syndrome do not have a problem recognizing faces necessarily.
- Some of the earliest findings tried to link the disorder to a Freudian approach in relation to the Oedipus Complex (sexual attraction to one parent, vengeance for the other).
- One theory says that the disorder is caused because of a failure of object constancy on a perpetual level. If you consider the object of the delusion, you can note that there are many memory layers made up of tactile, visual, auditory and experiential circumstances between the affected and the source of the delusion. The development of the disorder, in turn, is caused by damage taking place in some form to these areas of thought.
- A final theory offers two separate steps of diagnosis. It is a combination of a trigger experience and damaged reasoning skills. Both of these issues subsequently can cause the delusion.
What are the Symptoms?
Capgras Delusion has quite a few symptoms that are important to be aware of. If you notice your loved one expressing any of these signs or symptoms, keep a close eye on them and talk to a doctor immediately. Here are some things to be mindful of.
- Your loved one begins accusing you or someone you know of being an imposter. They could think that you are a double, replacement or trying to trick them.
- The patient actually thinks they see two separate persons.
- These basic symptoms can extend to pets and other live beings, and can progress into hysteria and fear.
- The target of the delusion is usually one of the most influential people during the onset—typically a spouse if the sufferer has one.
- If they begin acting suspicious or worried, this could be a sure sign.
- Any type of rash accusations or things that don’t seem to make much sense could also point toward it.
- If you notice that your loved one begins getting confused or forgets who you are, they could be leaning toward dementia and you should consider taking them to see a doctor.
How can it Be Treated?
It is very difficult to find a perfect capgras syndrome treatment. Because it is a brain disorder, and so little is known about how it is caused, it is hard to identify an exact treatment.
- It is important to realize that treatment for capgras syndrome will vary from patient to patient.
- The main treatment that is used for capgras syndrome is in the form of individually specific therapy.
- Although you do not want to overwhelm the one affected by the disorder, persistence is necessary in beating the delusions and having a chance at overcoming the disease.
- Certain cognitive techniques such as testing reality for individual patients can be used to help reverse the disorder as well.
- Some antipsychotic drugs have been tested and used on occasion with a little success in taming the issues and delusions.
What to do if Your Loved One is Diagnosed
When one of your loved ones begins experiencing these same types of bizarre delusions or you yourself become the center of the delusions, it is important to know how to respond. Too many situations end badly with this disorder because people simply do not know how to handle it. Not knowing what to expect or how to take each day with someone who has been diagnosed with capgras is one of the biggest pitfalls and reasons for fear of the disorder. Here are some steps to take to help your loved one overcome the disorder and help you cope with their new issues.
- First, you want to start by acknowledging their feelings. This type of world can be a scary one and very confusing to live in.
- Try entering into their reality. Really channel what it must be like to believe what they believe and feel what they are feeling. To most people, the prospect of someone being an “imposter” seems completely silly and crazy, but to those diagnosed with Capgras, this is a real fear and issue. It is to your benefit to really get inside their head and realize how confused and afraid they may be feeling during this time. This can help you come to their aid much more easily.
- Remember to never argue with them or correct them. When a person has a form of dementia, their ability to keep facts straight and normal is almost nonexistent. Trying to argue and prove them wrong will only create disappointment, resentment, and discouragement. It is important not to take their accusations personally because they are not exactly in their right mind while accusing you. The best thing you can do is leave it alone and act kindly toward them.
- Create positive emotions. You can only gain their trust and do away with these delusions by creating positive moments between you and the sufferer. Fostering feelings of love, safeness and control will help them build up trust and be more prone to see you for who you are and what they actually have memory of.
- Try having someone send the imposter away. This may seem silly, but if you have a third person in the room during an episode of this disorder, try sending them away and making the sufferer feel safe and comfortable. After awhile, once they have calmed down, bring their loved one back, try to engage in an immediate positive experience. This will trigger the good memories and associate them with the person instead of fear and uncertainty.
- Connect primarily through sound. If you are the source of the delusion, try making a connection before the sufferer sees you. For example, when coming home from work, before they see you, try saying “I’m home honey! How are you?” Continue talking to them as they come into view so that you can develop a positive connection before they have to see you. This will help build trust and help the delusions to dissipate.
When it comes weird psychological disorders like Capgras Syndrome, scientists are often baffled. The brain works in mysterious ways, and one tiny little issue can cause the worst damage and the most confusing disorders. With Capgras, all you can do is become educated. The more you know about what to expect, the less scary the disorder will seem as you go along. If you are close to someone who has been the victim of this crazy disorder, try to learn all you can in order to better understand and help him or her. Knowledge is a great way to help stifle fear, especially in the mysterious medical world.