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1990 diary entry of man with a 30-second memory reveals the one thing he always remembers

He was a brilliant musician. Then, a virus contraction left him with a memory span of only 30 seconds.

1990 diary entry of man with a 30-second memory reveals the one thing he always remembers
Cover Image Source: YouTube | 60 Minutes Australia

In 1985, British musicologist Clive Wearing was struck with one of the most extreme cases of amnesia ever recorded. Diagnosed with herpesviral encephalitis, the disease destroyed his brain's memory-forming regions, leaving him with a memory span of just 7 to 30 seconds. Four decades later, a page from his diary surfaced online, revealing the mind of a man who struggled to remember anything. Yet, it also revealed the one thing Wearing always remembered: his love for his wife, Deborah.

Representative Image Source: Pexels I Photo by Jessica Lewis
Representative Image Source: Pexels I Photo by Jessica Lewis

Wearing's diary entry from January 13, 1990, recorded his daily observations every 4 to 5 minutes, each marked as "new." Despite his condition, one constant was his love for his wife, Deborah. He made efforts to keep her updated about his life.

His condition usually saw him forget half of his memories before he could finish an entry and hence had to start over again and again. He could not trust what he wrote and when he wrote it, which often led him to scratch out most of his entries. He wrote multiple entries that recorded his last conscious moment. In the diary, one entry denoting 7:46 am saw him write, "I am awake for the first time." It is followed by an entry at 7:47 AM, that read, "This illness has been like death till NOW. All senses work.”

Image Source: Dairies of Note
Image Source: A small section from Clive Wearing’s diary, 13th Jan 1990 I Dairies of Note

Despite his extreme amnesia, Wearing retains a form of short-term episodic memory. He understands his immediate situations without knowing how he got there. Most amnesia patients experience only one form of the disorder at a time—either retrograde or anterograde.


Wearing's case is rare in this respect, as he experienced both forms of amnesia simultaneously. He suffered from the most extreme case of anterograde amnesia ever recorded, per Since he cannot retain any new information and lives in a perpetual state of confusion, he was shifted to an assisted living facility where he receives the help he needs. 


Despite his severe memory loss, Wearing remarkably retains two things: his love for his wife and his passion for music. He knows he was a musician but can't remember playing or hearing music. Tragically, he knows he has children but can't remember their names.


Wearing's wife Deborah has been through thick and thin since his diagnosis. She teamed up with the Amnesia Association to give the NHS recommendations on how to help and rehabilitate those with brain injuries, per Historic Flix. In her book "Forever Today: A Memoir Of Love And Amnesia," Deborah talks about the reality of their situation and how the disease affected their lives. She describes it as a "story of a life lived outside time" and a "story of a marriage, of a bond that runs deeper than conscious thought."


In an interview with The Guardian, Deborah summed up her thoughts on her husband's rare condition. She said, "I realized that we are not just brain and processes. Clive had lost all that and yet he was still Clive." She added, "Even when he was at his worst, most acute state, he still had that huge overwhelming love… for me. That was what survived when everything else was taken away."

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