Man Without a Memory
Clive Wearing and Anterograde Amnesia

Man Without a Memory
Clive Wearing and Anterograde Amnesia

Clive Wearing has a neurological disorder called Anterograde Amnesia which is a condition that doesn't allow new memories to transfer into long-term memory.

This means that he will never remember anything since his incident, similarly to the movie Memento.

Clive was an accomplished pianist in the 80s', and fortunately can still play the piano flawlessly. He only remembers his wife, and anything else to him is new information, even if it was presented to him once before.

On March 29th, 1985, Wearing, then an acknowledged expert in early music at the height of his career with BBC Radio 3, contracted a virus which normally causes only cold sores, but in Wearing's case attacked the brain (Herpes simplex encephalitis). Since this point, he has been unable to store new memories. He has also been unable to control emotions and associate memories well.

Wearing developed a profound case of total amnesia as a result of his illness. Because an area of the brain required to transfer memories from working memory to long-term memory is damaged, 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).

The Case of Clive Wearing
Life Without Memory

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, believing he has not seen her in years, 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 has forgotten.

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. His brain is still trying to fire information in the form of action potentials to neurostructures that no longer exist. The resulting encephalic electrical disturbance leads to fits.

In a diary provided by his caretakers, Clive 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 doesn't know how the entries were made or by whom, although he does recognize his own writing.

Wishing to record the important life event of "waking up for the first time", he still writes diary entries from 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.