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Capgras syndrome is an uncommon type of delusional disorder. It is characterized by intense, unwavering feelings that a close friend or family member has been replaced by an identical impostor. A sufferer recognizes the face and behavior of the loved one, but is convinced that he or she is a double. People who have Capgras syndrome may also experience other delusions and symptoms because of an underlying case of schizophrenia or another mental disorder. Treatment in the form anti-psychotic drugs and psychological counseling help many patients regain their grasp of reality.
The causes of Capgras syndrome are not entirely understood. Many researchers believe the disorder is likely caused by physical trauma to a particular area of the brain called the right temporal lobe, which is responsible for face recognition. Car accidents, drug abuse, or other causes of damage to the temporal lobe are common in the histories of many Capgras syndrome patients. In addition, a number of people show signs of schizophrenia, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and other syndromes that cause delusional thinking. The disorder is most commonly seen in adult females.
Capgras syndrome can come on very suddenly, taking both the sufferer and loved ones by total surprise. A woman with the disorder may wake up next to her long-term spouse and react with horror that her husband has been replaced. She can recognize his face, mannerisms, and behavior as absolutely normal, but at the same time be certain that he is not her husband. Reassurance from other family members and friends is meaningless, and the sufferer may believe that others are in on the scheme. Some people with Capgras syndrome have the same feelings toward multiple close people, and occasionally feel as if pets, household objects, or other items are doubles as well.
It can be difficult to convince a person with symptoms of Capgras syndrome to visit a doctor. If a meeting with a psychiatrist is set up, he or she can usually diagnose the condition based on a personal interview. Medical tests may be scheduled to look for signs of illness, head trauma, and chemical imbalances in the brain.
Treatment decisions are made on a patient-to-patient basis. Many people, especially those with schizophrenia, respond well to daily anti-psychotic medications. Cognitive-behavioral therapy with an experienced counselor can also help patients realize their ideas are unfounded and provide tips on better managing their daily lives. It is essential for family members, especially people who are targeted as impostors, to educate themselves on the disorder and provide as much support as possible in their loved one's time of need.