Cotard Syndrome: Walking Dead Really Exist

Cotard Syndrome: Walking Dead Really Exist

Cotard Syndrome also known as walking corpse syndrome is a rare mental disorder in which a person mistakenly believes that he or she is dead, does not exist, putrefying. Patient claims that they does not have internal organs or blood. The illness can be simply described as the denial of self-existence.

The history of this syndrome dated back to year 1788 when Charles Bonnet reported the case of an elderly woman who was preparing a meal in her kitchen when a draught ‘struck her forcefully on the neck’ paralyzing her one side ‘as if hit by a stroke’. When she regained the ability to speak, she demanded that her daughters ‘dress her in a shroud and place her in coffin’ as she believed that she is dead and her body is rotting.

Cotard’s Syndrome was first described by (and later named after) French neurologist Jules Cotard. In 1880 a middle-aged woman paid a visit to him complaining that she had ‘no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach, no intestines’. Mademoiselle X, as Cotard dubbed her in his notes, told the physician she was ‘nothing more than a decomposing body’. She died of starvation as she believed that she is dead and there is no need to eat.

Signs and Symptoms of Cotard’s Syndrome

  1. • Denial of self-existence (patients believe that they are dead)
  2. • Denial the existence of a certain body part
  3. • A belief that they are putrefying (patients can even smell rotting flesh) or lost vital organs
  4. • Failure to recognize people’s faces
  5. • Refusal to eat
  6. • depression, anxiety, feeling of guilt
  7. • Negativity and insensitivity to pain
  8. • Neglecting of personal hygiene and physical health
  9. • Schizophrenia, hallucinations
  10. • No interest to social life
  11. • Suicidal tendency
  12. • Distorted view of the world

Sufferer’s of Cotard’s Syndrome
One Scottish man who suffered a serious injury to his head following a motorcycle accident in 1996 told his doctor he had died because of complications during his recovery. He later moved from Edinburgh to South Africa with his mother. There he found in the scorching heat all the evidence he needed to confirm he was, in fact, dead. Only Hell could be that hot, the patient concluded.

In 2008, doctors published a paper detailing the case of a 53-year-old Filipino woman who “was admitted to the psychiatric unit when her family called 911 because the patient was complaining that she was dead, smelled like rotting flesh, and wanted to be taken to a morgue so that she could be with dead people.”

Belgian psychiatrists reported in 2009 that an 88-year-old man walked into the hospital claiming he was dead. He felt anxious and concerned because no one had buried him yet. The same doctors treated a 46-year-old-woman who said she had not eaten or gone to the toilet for moths. She also claimed she hadn’t slept in years. The woman explained to the doctors that she was devoid of blood. When doctors showed the woman her blood pressure and put her in front of a monitor that recorded her heart beats, she casually dismissed them. The woman accused the doctors they were deceiving her — after all, she could no longer hear the heart beating anymore.

Perhaps, the oddest case is that of an Iranian 32-year-old man who told doctors in 2005 that he was not only dead but he had turned into a dog. That’s not all — his wife suffered the same fate and his three daughters, he claimed, also died but turned into sheep this time. According to the patient, he was poisoned by his neighbors but nevertheless felt vindicated since God offered him protection even in death.

War veteran Warren McKinlay, 35, spent 18 months thinking he was a ghost following a motorbike accident in 2005 and described feeling "like a dead man walking".

War veteran Warren McKinlay, 35, spent 18 months thinking he was a ghost following a motorbike accident in 2005 and described feeling “like a dead man walking”.

Although researchers are still struggling to find the exact cause of this syndrome but Brain study of some patients revealed that dysfunction in brain can be the cause. Graham became the first person with walking corpse syndrome to undergo a brain scan. Doctors found activity levels in large areas of his frontal and parietal brain — areas involved in motor function, memory, and sensory information — were extremely low, resembling someone in a vegetative state. Scientific American attributes the failure to recognize people’s faces to misfiring in the amygdala area of the brain.

Psychotherapy along with antidepressants and antipsychotics have been shown to help control the symptoms as well as electroconvulsive treatment. In fact, a 2008 case report claims most cases of walking corpse syndrome are more responsive to electroconvulsive treatment than to pharmacological treatment. However, more research needs to be done on this condition because scientists are still in the dark about the cause of this disease and how to treat it.


By – Assistant Professor – Mrs Deepika
Department of Nursing
Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital


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