Do you sometimes get the feeling that your mother is really an impostor? Or do you often find yourself chewing on cud and drinking from imaginary udders? Maybe you have a mental breakdown when you have to decide between thin and thick crust, or convulse when you watch Entertainment Tonight? So, sound familiar? Thought so. Well read on and discover more about these weird and not-so-wonderful mental illnesses, some of which have left the medicine world baffled.
Alien Hand Syndrome
Despite how it may sound, the terrifyingly named Alien Hand Syndrome does not describe the sensation that E.T is groping you. Instead, it refers to a condition wherein an arm appears to take on a life of its own, independent of its owner’s desires. The arm can move around, touch and respond without the control or will of the person attached to the end of it. Not surprisingly, sufferers experience a great deal of distress and feel that their arm is a separate entity to the rest of the body. One of the earliest reports of such a condition came from esteemed German neuro-psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein in 1908. Goldstein described a patient who, after suffering a stroke, performed actions with her arm entirely against her will. So strong was this alienation from her limb that she would insist someone else was moving it. Rarely and only with substantial effort, was she able to voluntarily perform a command with this arm, even though an identical movement was done with ease when not intended.
Other examples of the disorder include a woman who would unwittingly pinch her nipples and another whose alien hand would prevent her smoking by taking the cigarette out of her mouth. Interestingly, sufferers maintain normal sensation in the ‘alien’ limb despite their inability to control its behaviour. However, they are often unaware of what the limb is doing until either it is pointed out to them or the limb itself draws attention to its behaviour. Consequently, the limb is personified and frequently referred to as wayward and disobedient. Whilst the frontal, occipital and parietal lobes of the brain are associated with Alien Hand Syndrome, it can occur after strokes and tumours or with the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The best documented cases come from patients who have undergone procedures that involve the surgical separation of the brain’s two hemispheres. Unfortunately, there’s little to be done about these pesky wandering hands, besides keeping the alien limb consistently preoccupied with activity or restricting its movement by wearing oven mitts (seriously).
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