Imagine a family member no longer recognized you as the person you are. Now imagine that family member believes you are a stand-in or an imposter of the real you. An individual who misidentifies a family member or friend may have Capgras delusion. This mental disorder gets its name from the psychiatrist, Joseph Capgras, who described this illness in 1923.
Symptoms of Capgras delusion
Capgras delusion is quite rare. The symptoms of Capgras delusion may include:
Misidentification of friends and or family
Misidentification of self
Misidentification of objects
Misidentification of pets
May believe the imposters are from a parallel universe
Individuals with Capgras delusion may be convinced that friends and family have been replaced by imposters. Some people with Capgras delusion don’t even recognize their own reflection when looking in a mirror. Individuals may also not recognize their home furnishings and pets as their own, believing they are exact replicas. If the person is married, he/she will most likely misidentify the spouse as a look-alike.
What causes Capgras delusion?
The medical community doesn’t know what exactly causes Capgras delusion. However, there are many theories about what causes it; the causes may be caused by lesions or other abnormalities of the frontal lobe of the brain. Capgras delusion may also be a manifestation of other mental and physical disorders, such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and other physical, neurological and mental disorders. Capgras delusion is most often seen in people who have psychotic disorders and those who have suffered some kind of head trauma.
Researchers believe that Capgras delusion is caused by damage to the frontal lobe, but they are yet to explain what actually causes the social, familial and environmental disconnection which causes the misidentification of people, animals and objects in a person’s life. It is not completely understood, for example, why a husband could see his wife and believe she is someone who is identical to his wife and only pretending to be her.
How is Capgras delusion diagnosed?
Before the doctor can diagnose someone with Capgras syndrome, the doctor will need to rule out other conditions which could cause similar symptoms, such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, schizophrenia, and mood disorders. The doctor should also consider if the delusions are caused by drug or alcohol abuse.
Oftentimes, Capgras delusion is less of a condition and more of a symptom of some other neurological or psychological illness. The doctor will likely order routine blood tests, CT scans of the brain and/or an MRI of the brain to find a physical cause for the symptoms.
How is Capgras delusion treated?
Individuals with Capgras delusion are treated according to the causative factors. In other words, treatment should be individualized to the patient. Antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants may be prescribed, along with individualized therapy. A treatment plan that works for one patient may not work for another, depending on the causative factors, such as stroke, or other physical or psychological illnesses which create the symptoms of Capgras delusion.
It is believed that there is a disconnection between the parts of the temporal lobe called the fusiform gyrus and the amygdala (a-mig-da-la). The fusiform gyrus is the part of the brain that recognizes faces and the amygdala is the part of the brain that gives emotional significance to what is seen through the eyes. These two areas within the brain are the areas which help us determine emotional significance to the people, places and things in our lives. Therefore, when the connection between these two areas in the brain is lost, the person loses his/her emotional connection to family, friends, animals and objects in his/her life.
To see Dr. Ramachandra speak about Capgras delusion and other related disorders click here.