My watch list  

Clive Wearing

Clive Wearing
Born 1938
United Kingdom
Genre(s) Early music
Occupation(s) Musicologist, conductor and keyboardist

Clive Alex Wearing (born 1938) is a British musicologist, conductor, and keyboardist suffering from an acute and long lasting case of anterograde amnesia. Specifically, this means he lacks the ability to form new memories, dubbed the "memento" syndrome by laypeople and the media, after a film based on the subject of the same name.


Musical Career

Clive Wearing is an accomplished musician, and is known for editing the works of Orlande de Lassus. Wearing sang at Westminster Cathedral as a tenor lay clerk for many years and also had a successful career as a chorus master and worked as such at Covent Garden and the London Sinfonietta Chorus. He ran The London Lassus Ensemble, designing and staging the 1982 London Lassus Festival to commemorate the composer's 450th Anniversary.


On March 29, 1985, Wearing, then an acknowledged expert in early music at the height of his career with BBC Radio 3, contracted herpes encephalitis. Normally causing only cold sores, in Wearing's case the virus attacked his brain. Primarily it damaged the hippocampus, which plays a major role in the handling of long term memory formation. Additionally, he sustained marginal damage to the temporal and frontal lobes. The former houses the amygdala, a component implicated in the control of emotions and associated memories.

Wearing developed a profound case of total amnesia as a result of his illness. Because the part of the brain required to transfer memories from the 'working' to the 'long term' area is damaged, he is completely unable to encode new memories. He spends every day 'waking up' every few minutes, 'restarting' his consciousness once the time span of his short term memory elapses. 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.

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 cerebellum, responsible for the maintenance of procedural memory, was to no extent 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. Unable to comprehend its structural deficiency, 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 like those experienced by persons suffering from severe epilepsy.

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 as being untrue. He still writes diary entries today, more than two decades after he started them. The content is essentially unchanged from his earliest ones.

His wife Deborah has written a book about her husband's case entitled Forever Today.

His story was told in a 1986 documentary entitled Equinox: Prisoner of Consciousness, and then his updated story was re-told in the 2005 ITV documentary The Man with the 7 Second Memory, although Wearing's short term memory can span much longer than that.

He also appears in the 2006 documentary series Time, where his case is used to illustrate the effect of losing one's perception of time.

His story was also told in episode "#304 - Memory and Forgetting" on the show Radio Lab on New York Public Radio, WNYC. The show is available on-line at WNYC - Radio Lab and via podcast through iTunes.

See also

Other neurological trauma/damage cases:

Anterograde amnesia in popular fiction:

  • Memento
  • 50 First Dates
  • Clean Slate
  • Fuddy Meers
  • Finding Nemo
  • The Lookout
  • Ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two.

Other areas:

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Clive_Wearing". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE