The White House has few plans to mark the landmark birthday in any major public way. Any celebration will be eclipsed, by design or not, by the wedding festivities of Biden’s granddaughter Naomi at the White House on Saturday. The first lady is planning to host a birthday brunch on Sunday — a family tradition that usually takes place the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but in this case will occur on Biden’s actual birthday since the family will already be gathered.
At a time when Biden’s age has come up again and again in focus groups and surveys, the fact that he is now the first Oval Office octogenarian is something few in the president’s orbit are eager to highlight. It comes as he considers whether to run for reelection — which, if he wins, would place him at 82 during his inauguration and 86 at the end of a second term.
Also a topic of conversation, though not usually in the media, is his mental fitness. There were rumors on Twitter a couple weeks ago that the NY Times was working on a story about Biden’s mental fitness, a story that would only be published after the election. I don’t know if those rumors were true but maybe they were a references to this story published today. The Times spoke to ten experts on aging and asked how healthy someone could expect to be from age 80 to 86, i.e. how old Biden would be at the end of a 2nd term as president.
Mr. Biden, these experts agreed, has a lot going in his favor: He is highly educated, has plenty of social interaction, a stimulating job that requires a lot of thinking, is married and has a strong family network — all factors that, studies show, are protective against dementia and conducive to healthy aging. He does not smoke or drink alcohol and, according to the White House, he exercises five times a week. He also has top-notch medical care.
This is clearly meant to be a mostly positive story but there’s an elephant in the room, or maybe in this case we should say an elephant who is not in the room. The story does its best to tap-dance around the problem. Dr. Dan Blazer says Biden’s “slippage of memory” is normal and not a sign of any deficit:
The same, he said, goes for Mr. Biden’s verbal stumbles — including the time he searched an audience for a congresswoman, apparently forgetting that she had died the previous month.
“Slippage of memory is something that is usual, but it is not a real deficit,” said Dr. Blazer, who led a committee of experts that examined “cognitive aging” for the National Academy of Sciences in 2015. He described such slippage this way: “They forget, they remember they have forgotten and they eventually remember what they have forgotten.”
Once people reach 65, the risk of dementia doubles every five years, said Dr. Gill Livingston, a psychiatrist at University College London, who led a commission on dementia in 2020 that was convened by The Lancet, a medical journal. In general, she said, in high-income countries like the United States, dementia will affect 10 percent of people aged 80 to 84 and 20 percent of those aged 85 to 89.
The story notes that Biden hasn’t had a cognitive screening (at least not one we know about) but says doctors have differing views about whether they are necessary. So don’t be surprised if Biden doesn’t get one this year or next year. You know the Times is desperate when they publish something positive about former President Trump.
Jay Olshansky, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, names both Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump, who is 76, as likely fitting the profile of “super-agers” — a “subgroup of people that maintain their mental and physical functioning and tend to live longer than the average person their age.”
Joe Biden is already the oldest any person has ever been as president. And sure, on its own that’s not enough to say anything about him. But there are clear signs that he’s having memory problems, gait problems, problems putting sentences together, problems keeping his stories straight, problems keeping his accomplishments straight, etc. All of it suggests there might be a problem here, but I think the story above makes it pretty clear the Times isn’t interested in exploring that story beyond a few upbeat quotes, at least not right now.