Imagine a situation in which someone you have known your entire life, a friend, a family member, or even your spouse, begins to recognize you as an ‘imposter’. How would this make you feel?
The Capgras Syndrome is a psychological condition in which an individual irrationally believes someone they know has been replaced by an imposter. Individuals with this mental health disorder go through multiple levels of suffering, and their loved ones find it difficult to accept the bitter truth. In 1923, Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist, first described the disorder as a delusional misidentification syndrome (DMSs). Also known as ‘Imposter Syndrome’, Capgras Syndrome is essentially a state of delusion. Someone the patient knows is falsely portrayed as an imposter. In some cases, individuals may also experience the misconception that they recognize inanimate objects or animals as imposters.
Unlike other mental health conditions, individuals with Capgras Syndrome lead an everyday life in terms of visible symptoms. Other than when they are around the person or thing they believe is an imposter. The most primary and obvious symptom of Capgras Syndrome is when someone starts to think that a person in their life has been replaced by someone else or has a double. They often view them as imposters in ‘disguise’, causing extreme anxiety to the patient and caregivers. Another symptom of this rare condition may be violence since the patient could show aggression, fear, or violence towards the ‘imposter’. Aggravated symptoms cause additional stress and anger between the affected person and those around them, causing arguments and resentment.
Psychologists and researchers study specific theories which relate to why the symptoms occur. One such theory states that Capgras Syndrome results from cerebral lesions on the brain after traumatic brain injury. Another approach says the cause of Capgras Syndrome may be the disconnect between the brain’s visual aspect and facial familiarity, leading to the misidentification. Therefore, several theories exist on the causes of Capgras Syndrome. However, the typical school of thought is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, and Schizophrenia. Thereby altering one’s sense of reality and causing episodes of Capgras Syndrome.
In terms of treatment, there is no prescribed treatment for patients with Capgras. However, overall the therapy addresses the underlying cause of the disorder. Medication for the syndrome is similar to that for Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. The medicines depend on the symptoms, such as cholinesterase inhibitors or anti-psychotics. The most effective treatment includes creating a welcoming and positive environment with unconditional positive regard, making the patient feel comfortable and safe. Specific care centres also use validation therapy for patients with Capgras Syndrome. Their delusions are accepted and supported rather than rejected, thereby reducing anxiety and panic for the patient. Along with this, reality orientation techniques have also been used as treatment. The patient is constantly reminded of their present location, time, and significant life events to help them situate back to reality.
Cases of individuals with Capgras Syndrome vary. In one case, a man could not recognize his parents when they were face-to-face. However, telephonically he did not have a problem. In another case, a mother misidentified her child as an imposter. She could not be convinced of her own daughters’ identity. In this way, being diagnosed with Capgras Syndrome can be extremely emotionally demanding. There are specific ways you can help someone with Capgras. This includes entire their realm of reality. When you view the situation from their shoes, you may realize how terrifying it is for the patient. Make the best use of and rely on tools using ‘sound’. If someone you know is prone to Capgras Syndrome, make them register your appearance. You can do so by using sound such as acquainting them with your voice before facial recognition. When dealing with a patient, make sure to not argue with them and don’t correct them. This will only instil a greater sense of fear and suspicion. Lastly, make sure to acknowledge their feelings with empathy to not feel misunderstood or weak.
There exists a repertory of rare psychological disorders such as Capgras Syndrome, which are lesser-known and studied. Together, let us educate ourselves and spread awareness. Together, let us destigmatize mental health issues. Together, let us make one person feel less alone. That is where the power lies.