19 Aug How Old is Too Old to Be President?
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Every U.S. presidential election is historic. However, the upcoming vote in November is especially noteworthy considering the advanced age of both of the candidates. When he first took office in 2016, Donald Trump was the oldest person to become president at the age of 70. (Previously, Ronald Reagan held that distinction when he assumed office for his first term at the age of 69 in 1981.) If he wins in November, Donald Trump will be 74 and when he leaves office in 2024 he will be 78 years old.
If Joe Biden becomes president, he will be 78 years old on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, which will make him the title holder of the oldest person elected to the presidency. At the end of his first term in the job he will be 82. Current Vice-President Mike Pence is 61 and, Democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris is 55.
Is Age is Just a Number?
Certainly both candidates are considered older in terms of chronological age–the amount of time that has passed from a person’s birth to a given date. However, an individual’s biological or physiological age can be quite different from the number of birthdays celebrated in a lifetime. We all age differently based on a number of factors. This includes: genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, diseases, and underlying conditions.
For example, our staff member, Kim, had a babysitter who had triple coronary bypass surgery at the age of 80. Kim remembers visiting Anne in the hospital before the operation and wondering how her beloved friend and babysitter could survive such a serious surgery given her age. But Anne’s doctors were confident she would do very well because even though she was 80 she had the heart of a 60-year old. And other than blocked arteries Anne had no other underlying conditions. She was a healthy weight, didn’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, and she was a socially connected and positive person. It was no surprise to her surgeon that Anne did survive the surgery and lived another healthy 18 years!
Normal Cognitive Decline
While the physical health of a president can be objectively assessed by a physician, cognitive health my be more difficult to determine. Cognition includes many important functions of the brain such as memory, judgement, language, intuition, and the ability to learn. The demands of being president of the United States are challenging, both physically and mentally. However, advanced age does not mean either candidate is not up to the rigorous tasks of being president. According to the National Institutes of Health, cognition does change as we age, but does not always necessarily decline.
- Some areas of cognition, such as vocabulary and general knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of experience remain stable and even improve with age.
- Problem solving and reasoning ability remain intact. However, it may take longer to solve a problem when encountering a new situation.
- Verbal changes begin to occur with age such as not being able to retrieve a name for a certain object in a short amount of time.
- While mild changes in cognition are a normal part of aging, dementia is not.
How to Stay Cognitively Healthy
Perhaps we should take a look at each candidate’s lifestyle to help determine if their cognitive function is normal for their age. The NIH notes that the following activities are found in older adults with high cognitive function:
- Engaging in intellectual activities;
- Solving puzzles, reading, using the computer, playing bridge, board games, and musical instruments;
- Involved in discussion groups;
- Careers that involve high complexity;
- High educational attainment;
- Physical activities;
- Exercise, especially that which improves cardiovascular health;
- Social engagement;
- Travel, cultural events;