Psychology Case Study: Memory & Clive Wearing

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  • 0:03 Viral Encephalitis
  • 1:17 The Memories
  • 2:35 Life in the Present
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Clive Wearing endured viral encephalitis, which changed his ability to do anything but live in the very present. This lesson discusses Clive Wearing and his challenges with memory.

Viral Encephalitis

Clive Wearing was in his 40s when he came home with a headache. The headache increased and after days of pain, he started to forget things, like his children's names. It was determined that Wearing had viral encephalitis, which damaged both the left and right temporal lobe and even the frontal lobe. According to psychologists and doctors, Wearing's hippocampus was completely eradicated by the disease. This gave him what is called anterograde amnesia, which refers to the inability to make or keep memories. However, Wearing also has retrograde amnesia, which refers to losing previous memories as well.

The hippocampus has long been known to be related to memory. It is the tool that transforms short-term memory to long-term. Unfortunately, Wearing does not have this capability. However, his memory issues are even worse than that. Wearing cannot even keep information in short-term memory for longer than 30 seconds, and sometimes as little as seven seconds. The virus took all memory from Wearing except for the love he has for his wife and his ability to play music. This seems to be immutable and unchangeable.

The Memories

Clive Wearing was a talented musician, conductor, and singer prior to the illness. His talent was well noted by his peers and is also something that he seems to still know. Wearing can play the piano but quickly forgets doing so, leaving him constantly unaware of his own talents. He also does not remember ever hearing music, yet his capability and skill have not been affected. This is considered muscle memory or procedural memory, which refers to actions.

Deborah Wearing, his wife, has stayed with him during the illness and the resulting memory loss. Wearing is now living in an assisted living facility so he can he helped full time, but he is constantly visited by his wife. He has no memory of her visits, yet he is still excited by her nonetheless. He keeps a diary, and in that diary, he writes about his love for his wife, stating her name even after she is gone. His diary is a contentious issue for Wearing as well. This loss of memory is an example of another long-term memory type, which is declarative memory. Declarative memory has to do with events, people, places, and even speech. The fact that Wearing has these two types of memory loss, and they come from both types of memory is unique.

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