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Capgras Syndrome: When Everyone Is Seen As an Impostor

Deja vu is a situation wherein meeting someone before but has not really happened in reality / Photo by Aastock via Shutterstock.com

 

There may be instances wherein a person feels that they have already experienced a situation or met someone before even though it has not really happened yet. This phenomenon is known as deja vu.

Still, there are some people who experience quite the opposite of this. When they look at someone they are familiar with, they perceive them as a person who has been replaced by an impostor. This is what happens when an individual suffers from Capgras Syndrome.

 

What Is Capgras Syndrome?

According to the Cognitive Neuroscience Glossary, Capgras Syndrome is a rare psychological disorder wherein a person believes that someone they know well such as a family or a friend, was replaced by a lookalike. It was named after Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist who was the first to identify this medical condition. He is also recognized for studying the illusion of doubles.

Capgras Syndrome is otherwise known as Capgras Delusion and Imposter Syndrome.

Deborah Bier, a psychotherapist and the author of Capgras and Dementia: The Imposter Syndrome, states that it can often be found in people who have other psychotic disorders and those who have brain injuries and diseases. It is also noted to be upsetting for the person affected by the disorder as well as those around them.

People who are affected by this can easily identify a person’s face but disagree with their real identity. It is said to be difficult to convince them that their family members, friends or spouses are not pretending to be someone they are familiar with.

 

 

Symptoms

An individual suffering from Capgras Syndrome can display many visible symptoms. The most observable of these is that they have begun to think that the person close to them is replaced by a double or someone else who resembles them, says Medical News Today.

Another sign is when the patient says that the person they believe to be an impostor looks exactly like the “original” and that they have exposed the “disguise”.  This can make their behavior change and cause them anxiety.

There are cases wherein the person affected by Capgras Syndrome may act violently towards the individual considered an impostor. However, there are more cases which show that they are more likely to act fearful or anxious toward them.

They may also become extremely preoccupied with the “impostor” trying to look for their “real” counterpart. As a result, this can cause additional anger, stress, and disagreements between the one experiencing Capgras Syndrome and those close to them.

 

Causes

Capgras Syndrome is often linked with brain disorders that affect memory and can change a person’s sense of reality such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, Healthline indicates.

In other instances, it can be caused by brain injuries that can result in brain lesions. A lesion, as defined by WebMD, is a part of the tissue that has been harmed by injury or disease. It is prevalent in those whose injuries are located in the right hemisphere that is responsible for processing facial recognition. It is also explained that people who have epilepsy may possibly suffer from this disorder.

Schizophrenia is also identified as another cause of this disorder. Since having Schizophrenia can cause a person to have delusions and have a different perception of reality, this may also lead them to having Capgras Syndrome.

There are also many theories related to the causes of this psychological condition. One theory states that it may be brought about by physical and cognitive changes wherein it is caused by a person’s feeling of disconnectedness. Another theory says that it has something to do with a conflict in processing information or a blunder in a person’s perception which accompanies damaged or lost memories.

 

Capgras Syndrome is often linked to brain disorders like Alzheimer's disease or dementia / Photo by Pathdoc via Shutterstock.com

 

Treatment

As of now, there are no treatments aimed specifically to cure Capgras Syndrome but mostly, the root causes of it. If it is caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s, they are advised to find treatment for those disorders. They are advised to take medications that boost neurotransmitters that are used in memory and judgment. Patients who are simultaneously suffering from schizophrenia should take antipsychotics and go through therapy.

If it is caused by severe brain injuries which have led to brain lesions, the patient is advised to have brain surgery to prevent further damage.

Using reality orientation techniques is also a suggested approach for treatment. When utilizing this, the caregiver constantly provides the patient with reminders of their present time and location, major life events, changes, and moves.

Another recommended approach is to undergo validation therapy.  Under validation therapy, a patient’s delusions are accepted instead of rejected. This can help lessen the anxiety and panic of the individual affected by delusions.

 

People with schizophrenia should take antipsychotics medication to treat Capgras Syndrome / Photo by Novikov Aleksey via Shutterstock.com

 

How to Take Care of Someone Who Has Capgras Syndrome

A caregiver who has to deal with a patient with Capgras Syndrome may feel frustrated, especially if they are the ones who are viewed as the impostor.  Aging Care gives some tips to be able to assist the individual who is suffering from it. These are ways in which a person can help a Capgras Syndrome patient:

1. Accept their feelings and concerns.

Instead of negating their view, the caregiver should show that they understand what the patient is feeling and that it is all right for them to feel that way. Instead of correcting their perception of reality, they should try to picture themselves in the same situation.

2. Create a secure and emotional attachment.

The caregiver should also remind them how much they and the ‘impostor” loves them. If the person suffering from Capgras Syndrome has the belief that the “impostor” is trying to hurt them or steal from them, they should be constantly reassured that the said “impostor” would not do those things.

3. Depend on sound interactions.

It is revealed that patients with Capgras Syndrome have a hard time visually connecting to their loved ones. A better alternative to having face-to-face visits with the patient is talking to them by telephone. The person who wishes to interact with the patient may also talk to the patient personally, as long they are out of the patient’s line of sight. The person identified as an impostor can announce their arrival before the patient is able to see them. Doing this will aid in making an emotional bond and starting a conversation as the visitor appears gradually within their vision. This can also help the patient positively recognize their loved one.

 

It is also advised that the loved ones of the person suffering from this condition offer them a positive, secure and welcoming environment. Helping a person with Capgras Syndrome requires much patience and understanding.  However, if the caregivers and loved ones continue to deal with them patiently and help them get professional help, it can become easier for them to recover.

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