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With Biden And Trump Running For President, People Are Talking About The Aging Brain. Here’s What Science Tells Us

In this combination photo, President Joe Biden speaks May 2, 2024, in Wilmington, N.C., left, and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, May 1, 2024, in Waukesha, Wis. (AP Photo)

The 2024 presidential election has turned into a crash course in gerontology.

On Election Day, former president Donald Trump will be 78 years old, and President Biden will be a couple of weeks shy of 82. Never have two people of such advanced age been the nominees of the major political parties, nor has there been a campaign so rife with suspicions and allegations that candidates are showing signs of age-related cognitive decline.

The situation has worried the electorate. In a Marquette Law School poll conducted in March, 77 percent of registered voters said they consider Biden “too old to be president,” while 52 percent said that of Trump. And in a Pew Research survey in April, 62 percent said Biden did not have the “mental fitness needed to do the job,” while 48 percent reached that conclusion about Trump.

Research on aging, cognition and dementia has become more robust in a time when about 56 million Americans are over age 65, according to the 2020 Census. But medical and scientific experts warn that media reports and punditry about the candidates’ mental fitness have been marred by misinformation about the aging process.

Faith Based Events

The experts interviewed for this story were reluctant to speculate on the record about the cognitive health of Biden and Trump, noting that a robust assessment requires an in-depth examination potentially lasting days. They were more eager to speak about the aging process generally and what science can reveal about the aging brain — what’s normal, what’s pathological and how to discern the difference.

They also rejected any suggestion that there should be an upper age limit for the presidency.

Aging is not an unmitigated process of cognitive decline and deterioration, they pointed out. Judgment and emotional stability can improve with age — and may be more essential to effective leadership than, say, the ability to remember names or deliver a speech without a flub.

“The really important thing to keep in mind is that the older brain’s a wiser brain,” said Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT. “Knowledge and experience count for a lot, and that can more than makeup for slight losses of memory as a result of aging.”

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