Mental Health; Have You Heard of Capgras Delusion?

Were you truly intrigued by the movie ‘The Invasion’ starring Nicole Kidman, where as a psychiatrist she is determined that her son isn’t really her son, but an imposter?

Well, it turned out that her son had in fact been replaced by aliens, but that isn’t always the case with patients who suffer from Capgras Delusion.

Also called as Capgras Syndrome, this is a mental disorder that causes delusional misidentification. People suffering from this syndrome are delusional enough to believe that their family members, friends, pets or even places they love have been replaced by a duplicate.

What causes further aggravation is that the patient is sure they are handling a trickster, even though the other person knows intimate details about their life and is struggling hard to prove that they are, in fact, very REAL and not imposters.

Unlike patients who suffer from Prosopagnosia (or face blindness) and do not recognize a person no matter how many times they see their face, Capgras Syndrome makes a patient ‘recognize’ the face of a person, but believe that he or she isn’t really familiar to them and hence an imposter.  Image via www.youtube.com
Unlike patients who suffer from Prosopagnosia (or face blindness) and do not recognize a person no matter how many times they see their face, Capgras Syndrome makes a patient ‘recognize’ the face of a person, but believe that he or she isn’t really familiar to them and hence an imposter.
Image via http://www.youtube.com

A Little History

Capgras Delusion was first brought to light by French doctors – Joseph Capgras (after whom this medical condition has been named) who was a psychiatrist, and Jean Reboul-Lachaux while treating their patient, Madame M.

She suffered from serious delusional misidentification, going on to believe that she had suffered through 80 different husbands! She also believed that her staff and neighbours were all imposters, much to her plight.

These patients cannot ‘feel’ the things they usually feel when they see the said person – be it a spouse, a child, a friend or family member. Hence the problem here isn’t failure of recognition but of personal disconnection.

Unlike hallucinations, delusions are trickier.
Unlike hallucinations, delusions are trickier.

Understanding Capgras Delusion

When a person hallucinates, he or she has a sensory response where they can see, hear or smell things that don’t really exist. In the case of Capgras Delusion, the patient simply has beliefs and thoughts that aren’t real.

This syndrome is seen commonly in patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia, Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia. Sometimes, people who have suffered from a serious brain injury or a disease can also become prone to this delusional medical condition.

Though psychologists believe that Capgras Delusion is rare, there is a growing need to build public awareness about this disturbing syndrome as it is highly perplexing and difficult to live with for not just the patient but also the family and caregivers.

If like in the movie The Invasion you have the unwavering belief a loved one has been replaced with an impostor (and you don't have the pimp mustache) you're probably dealing with Capgras Delusion.
If like in the movie The Invasion and have the unwavering belief a loved one has been replaced with an impostor you’re probably dealing with Capgras Delusion.

Habilitation Therapy: Dealing with Capgras Syndrome

Often enough, Capgras Delusion is accompanied by Dementia and hence poses many management difficulties. Capgras can leave patients feeling lost and abandoned; they have no one to turn to because they cannot feel they can trust anyone, and no source to derive any human comfort even within their own home.

It’s a horrifying situation where the patient doesn’t know what is real, what is safe, what can be trusted and whom to depend upon.

According to Alzheimer’s Association, Habilitation Therapy is known as an effective tool to deal with a patient who suffers from Capgras. The core concepts in Habilitation Therapy to deal with patients suffering from delusions are:

  • Enter the reality of the person with dementia
  • Never argue or correct
  • Focus on creating positive emotional experiences to address challenging behaviours

If you are dealing with a patient who suffers from Capgras Delusion, connecting with the patient emotionally and getting them to warm up to you are the key to management.

Caregivers need to be creative in order to provide a safe environment where the patient can get better through long term medication and therapy, which can be quite challenging.

Treatment is exclusive to each patient and is completely dependent on first establishing a rapport between the patient and the therapist. Over a period of time, the patient can begin to understand that he or she is delusional through psychotherapy, though this condition is not always treatable, especially in the case of patients suffering from progressive brain damage.

Also Read: Have You Heard of Sunday Night Syndrome?

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s