Clive Wearing – The man with no short-term memory

Clive Wearing
Clive Wearing (born 11 May 1938) is a British musicologist, conductor, tenor and keyboardist who suffers from chronic anterograde and retrograde amnesia. He lacks the ability to form new memories, and also cannot recall aspects of his past memories, frequently believing that he has only recently awoken from a coma.

On 27 March 1985, Wearing, then an acknowledged expert in early music at the height of his career with BBC Radio 3, contracted Herpesviral encephalitis, a Herpes simplex virus that attacked his central nervous system. Since this point, he has been unable to store new memories. He has also been unable to control emotions (unstable mood) and to associate memories effectively.
Wearing developed a profound case of total amnesia as a result of his illness. Because of damage to the hippocampus, an area required to transfer memories from short-term to long-term memory, he is completely unable to form lasting new memories – his memory only lasts between 7 and 30 seconds. He spends every day ‘waking up’ every 20 seconds, ‘restarting’ his consciousness once the time span of his short term memory elapses (about 30 seconds). During this time, he repeatedly questions why he has not seen a doctor, as he constantly believes he has only recently awoken from a comatose state. If engaged in discussion, Clive is able to provide answers to questions, but cannot stay in the flow of conversation for longer than a few sentences. If asked about his current situation, he becomes very angry and upset, as he cannot obtain an explanation for his condition and thus feels interrogated. He remembers little of his life before 1985; he knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but cannot remember their names. His love for his second wife Deborah, whom he married the year prior to his illness, is undiminished. He greets her joyously every time they meet, either believing he has not seen her in years or that they have never met before, even though she may have just left the room to fetch a glass of water. When he goes out dining with his wife, he can remember the name of the food (e.g. chicken); however he cannot link it with taste, as he forgets what food he is eating by the time it has reached his mouth.
Despite having retrograde as well as anterograde amnesia, and thus only a moment-to-moment consciousness, Wearing still recalls how to play the piano and conduct a choir – all this despite having no recollection of having received a musical education. This is because his procedural memory was not damaged by the virus. As soon as the music stops, however, Wearing forgets that he has just played and starts shaking spasmodically. These jerkings are physical signs of an inability to control his emotions, stemming from the damage to his inferior frontal lobe.[citation needed] His brain is still trying to send information in the form of action potentials to neurostructures that no longer exist[citation needed]. The resulting encephalic electrical disturbance leads to fits[citation needed].
In a diary provided by his caretakers, Wearing was encouraged to record his thoughts. Page after page is filled with entries similar to the following:
8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.
Earlier entries are usually crossed out, since he forgets having made an entry within minutes and dismisses the writings–he does not know how the entries were made or by whom, although he does recognise his own writing. Wishing to record “waking up for the first time”, he still wrote diary entries in 2007, more than two decades after he started them.
Wearing can learn new practices and even a very few facts—not from episodic memory or encoding, but by acquiring new procedural memories through repetition. For example, having watched a certain video recording multiple times on successive days, he never had any memory of ever seeing the video or knowing the contents, but he was able to anticipate certain parts of the content without remembering how he learned them.

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