Clive Wearing

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Clive Wearing
Background information
Born 1938 (age 70–71)
Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
Genre(s) Early music
Occupation(s) Musicologist, conductor and keyboardist

Clive 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 of the same name based on the subject.


[edit] 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.

[edit] Amnesia

On March 29, 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 process new memories. He has also been unable to control emotions and associated memories well.

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 seconds, 'restarting' his consciousness once the time span of his short term memory elapses (about 30 seconds). 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 cerebellum, responsible for the maintenance of 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.[1] Wishing to record the important life event of "waking up for the first time", he still writes diary entries as of 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.[2]

[edit] Reports

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.

Oliver Sacks wrote about Wearing in a chapter in his 2007 book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and an article in The New Yorker titled "The Abyss".

[edit] See also

[edit] Other neurological trauma/damage cases

[edit] Other areas

[edit] References

  1. ^ The Mind BBC series episode - Part 1
  2. ^ The Mind BBC series episode - Part 2

[edit] External links

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