Should we be worried about the (likely) next president losing cognitive function?

In 2020 we will elect a new president. In 2017, Donald Trump, at the age of 70, was the oldest president to be inaugurated. Let’s look at how old the current top candidates will be on Election Day:

  • Donald Trump will be 74.
  • Elizabeth Warren will be 71.
  • Joe Biden will be 77.
  • Michael Bloomberg will be 78.
  • Bernie Sanders will be 79.

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The average age among all presidents to date is 55 years and 3 months. Why are we suddenly looking beyond the Baby Boomer generation for our next leader? (Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg is the exception, at 38).

The last “Greatest Generation” president we had was George H.W. Bush. President Trump is older than all of the living presidents elected after H.W. Bush. (Jimmy Carter preceded George H. W. Bush and is the oldest living ex-president)

We’ve heard rumors about President Ronald Reagan’s loss of cognitive function while in the Oval Office, so why is NO ONE discussing dementia as an issue in this election? Has anyone looked at the genetic history of these older candidates? The average age for dementia is 80 – which means anywhere from 75 to 85 symptoms can appear. Although the onset of dementia is progressive, it begins with intermittent lapses and progresses over time. Do we want a president who blanks out intermittently? Do we want the brush of a Reagan cover up? Do we want “advisors” running the country – or a wife, as in the case of Woodrow Wilson.

Edith Wilson ran the executive branch after President Wilson suffered a severe stroke in 1919. She was dubbed the “Secret President.” Although President Wilson was bedridden, there was no constitutional vehicle to remove him. In 1967, the 25th Amendment was ratified allowing a vice president and the president’s cabinet to remove the president for “cause.”

As a champion of seniors, I love the fact that most of the frontrunners for the presidency are seniors. However, the media and the public are not discussing the facts. It’s much more likely that an older president will be sick – not just dementia but stroke, heart attack, Parkinsons. . .

Why aren’t we discussing this? Is it because we don’t want to apply a broad brush to ALL seniors? The reality is that the older we are the more susceptible our immune system can be. The last three Baby Boomer presidents did not take a sick day. (Bush had two colonoscopies and during the procedure made Dick Cheney the president under Section 2 of the 25th Amendment).

The hypocrisy lies in how our culture treats seniors as if they’re perennially disabled simply because they look old or are 80 and over! Yet, no one asks the questions about these “old folks” running for President. In fact, Bernie Sanders, the oldest of the Presidential candidates, raised the most money in the last quarter, $34.7 million. Clearly, no one cares that he’s 78 and has had a heart attack. In fact, pundits are wondering if they’ve made a mistake discounting him like Republicans did with Trump last election.

I don’t know where I stand. I’m delighted that seniors are well represented in the presidential race, but I worry that we have not spoken publicly about the health risks of a 75+ president. We have, after all, no issues laying off “older employees” in the normal workplace.


About H. Frances Reaves, Esq.

A graduate of University of Miami Law School, Frances spent ten years as a litigator/ lobbyist. She founded Parent Your Parents to assist seniors and their children through the myriad of pitfalls and options of "senior care". If you have any questions or comments contact Frances at hfrancesr@parentyourparents.com

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