The Man With the 7-Second Memory

Earlier this year, former musicologist and conductor Clive Wearing celebrated his 85th birthday. However, if you told him that, he would forget it less than a minute later. Wearing has both anterograde and retrograde amnesia, preventing him from forming new memories or accessing old ones. The condition arose in 1985 after he contracted a disease called herpesviral encephalitis that affects the brain and central nervous system. His memory for events lasts between 7 and 30 seconds, so he wakes up every morning restarting his consciousness. He repeatedly questions why he has not seen a doctor, believing that he has recently awakened from a comatose state. If he’s engaged in conversation, he’s able to provide answers to questions, but he can’t keep up with the flow of conversation for longer than a few sentences. Wearing remembers little of his life before 1985. He knows he has children from an earlier marriage, but he can’t remember their names. Strangely, his love for his second wife Deborah is undiminished. He greets her every time they meet, though he believes he hasn’t seen her in years. When he goes out to dinner with his wife, he can remember the names of foods, but he can’t link them to taste, so he forgets what he’s eating by the time the food reaches his mouth. As for his career, Wearing has no memory of specific musical pieces when they’re mentioned by name, but remains capable of playing complex piano and organ pieces, sight-reading, and conducting a choir. Wearing's wife Deborah has written a book about her husband's case entitled Forever Today.