As President Joe Biden turns 80 years old, his administration is forced to face fears that his advanced age affects his ability to do what is one of the most demanding jobs in the world.
Research suggests aging rapidly increases one’s risk of chronic diseases such as dementia, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. Roughly 80% of adults 65 and older have at least one chronic condition, according to the National Council on Aging.
Older adults are also more prone to falls and accidents, with recovery generally taking longer.
“The truth is that the vast majority of the population does experience age-related changes in their body and mind with the passage of time. It doesn’t mean that you can’t function. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be president or a CEO,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a research associate at the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago.
Routine medical examinations released during his time in office have suggested that Biden is in good health, showing minimal, if any, signs of physical or cognitive decline, though recent slip-ups in speeches have raised concerns. In September, Biden appeared to forget that the late Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) had died in a high-profile accident the previous month, asking, “Jackie, are you here?” in a conference at the White House.
“President Biden remains a healthy, vigorous, 78-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief,” wrote Dr. Kevin O’Connor, Biden’s physician, in a letter published last November.
O’Connor did note that the president takes blood thinners for atrial fibrillation, as well medication for seasonal allergies, cholesterol, and gastroesophageal reflux, which has caused the frequent “throat-clearing” and coughing that has been noticeable in his speeches.
The World Health Organization says there is “no typical older person,” as some 80-year-olds have physical and mental capacities similar to many 30-year-olds, and others experience health declines at younger ages.
The University of California, San Francisco, Memory and Aging Center reported that some thinking abilities typically peak at age 30 and subtly decline with age, including overall speed in thinking and ability to sustain attention and find words.
Biden himself has tried to steer the conversation away from his age, suggesting that voters should focus on his “energy level” if he decides to run for reelection.
“In terms of my energy level, in terms of how much I’m able to do, I think people should look and say — can he still have the same passion for what he’s doing?” Biden told MSNBC earlier this month.
Questions over Biden’s age aren’t likely to subside anytime soon and could be a key issue in the presidential election. If Biden were to run for a second term and win reelection, he would be 82 years old on the day of his inauguration and 86 by the end of his second term.
Former President Donald Trump, who was 70 when he took office in 2017, also faced questions surrounding his ability to do the job. Earlier this week, Trump announced he is launching another presidential bid. If Trump were to be elected in 2024, he would be 78 years old by his inauguration and 82 by the end of his second four-year term.
Olshansky said that at this point, neither candidate has shown signs that their health would affect the ability to do the job, though he emphasized that it will be important for presidential candidates to be transparent with their medical records.
“Frankly, we don’t see any evidence that either of them are experiencing any significant cognitive issues,” Olshansky added.