Is Joe Biden Too Old to Run for a Second Term as President?

by | Jul 28, 2022

This story begins on the 4th of August, 2011 in Chicago. President Obama was on a local television station talking about his 50th birthday – I happened to be watching. The reporter then cut to an interview with a physician who was asked about Obama’s graying hair and apparent rapid aging during his first term. The doctor stated with authority that everyone knows that presidents age much faster than the rest of us.
I had never heard that, and aging is my area of expertise. I immediately scoured the scientific literature on presidential aging and longevity, and discovered that, in fact, no one had ever published a paper in a medical, science, or public health journal about the longevity of all U.S. presidents. So, I figured why not? It can’t be that hard – the sample size is small, and they’ve all had their ages verified and each was followed meticulously.

What I knew instantly though, was that the doctor commenting on the rapid aging of U.S. presidents stated with unjustified authority, a view that was not supported by science.

My analysis was complete within 48 hours; the article was submitted to a major medical journal (Journal of the American Medical Association – JAMA) in 72 hours; and the paper was published with some fanfare four months later on December 7, 2011. My conclusions were that most U.S. presidents lived or are likely to live significantly longer than the average man born in the U.S. in the same year (at least the ones not shot to death); they do not age faster than the rest of us – the exact opposite seems to be true; the exceptional longevity of U.S. presidents dates back to George Washington; and the most likely reason for this phenomenon is associated with the social determinants of health (income, education, access to health care, etc.). The figure and legend from that JAMA paper appear below.

Figure Legend:

The diagonal line represents an exact match between estimated life span with accelerated aging and observed or expected life span. Presidents who appear above the line lived or are expected to live longer than their estimated lifespan while those who appear below the line died before their estimated life span. Presidents who did not die of natural causes (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy, indicated by gray) and living presidents (Carter, G. H. W. Bush, Clinton, G. W. Bush, and Obama, indicated by bold and squares) were excluded from analyses involving observed survival because they are either still alive or did not die from natural causes. For living presidents, expected remaining years of life from their current ages were estimated from a complete life table for the total male resident US population published in 2007. Years of life hypothetically lost because of accelerated aging were calculated the same way for all presidents, living and deceased.

I found the same phenomenon in 2021 regarding the longevity of the British Monarchy.

Ever since that article in JAMA in 2011, I have been contacted by the media across the globe every four years when the age of presidential candidates becomes relevant again. I’ll never forget an interview I did about John McCain when he was running for president in 2007. Reporters finally left him alone when I informed them that McCain’s mother was still alive at age 96.

The age of the presidential candidates was heavily weaponized during the 2016 campaign as both camps tried their best to position their opponent as a doddering old man incapable of walking, talking, or thinking clearly. To say there was politics involved in these ageist attacks would be an understatement.

With so many armchair gerontologists expressing their ill-informed opinions in the national media, my colleagues and I decided to perform an objective medical assessment of the lifespan and healthspan of both candidates using published medical records – in much the same way we do at Lapetus.

Our results were published in the International Journal on Active Aging about six weeks before the election. Based on three independent reviews of the medical records by board certified physicians who study aging for a living, it was concluded that Biden possesses strong signals indicating he’s likely to be a superager – a subgroup of the population with higher-than-average prospects of maintaining cognitive and physical functioning beyond the average for the population. There was nothing in his medical records to suggest that he could not survive four years in office with mind and body intact.

It is worth noting that scientists at Lapetus are experts at identifying superager signals, and we report on the presence or absence of those signals in every one of our reports. While we cannot as yet quantify the effect of superager status on estimates of LE, we certainly believe there is value in knowing whether such signals exist in the medical records.

Is President Biden Fit for a Second Term?

So here we are, once again, with the strongest effort I’ve seen to date to weaponize age in a presidential election. It’s not surprising. Biden is, after all, the oldest president in American history. Armchair gerontologists are out in force tracing every misstatement, trip, fall, and garbled interview by Biden – aided of course by mobile phones and social media now capable of monitoring every second of his public life. Imagine the same level of scrutiny targeted to every reader of this article – how well would we fare under the same 24/7 spotlight?

The topic of this newsletter was a front page story in the New York Times on July 9 where Biden’s age, once again, made its way front and center. The author of the article clearly outlined how and why age will likely, once again, become an issue in the next presidential election.

This ageist portrayal of presidents is not new of course. Two of many that come to mind include Chevy Chase portraying President Ford in a skit on Saturday Night Live as a clumsy oaf that falls down every minute; and President Reagan famously diffused the issue of age when raised by a reporter during a debate with the younger Walter Mondale.

Those of us in the field of aging have been battling against ageism since the term was coined in the late 1970s by my friend Dr. Bob Butler.

Regarding the formal age-related requirements for the job of president of the United States, there has never been an upper age limit, but there is a lower age limit. The age of 35 was chosen by America’s founding fathers because they envisioned the presidency requiring the experience, maturity, and wisdom that comes with age. This alone makes Biden ideally suited for a second term as president because of his chronological age.

With regard to the unique attributes of President Biden regarding his health status, the overwhelming conclusion of our independent analysis of his medical records was that he is likely to be a member of a rare subgroup of the population known as superagers. These are people that survive past age 80 with their cognitive abilities operating at a level often seen in people decades younger. His vital signs and blood chemistry resembled that of a much younger person, and there was no evidence of any cognitive decline.

Biden’s stutter – an issue since his early childhood – is often mistaken for cognitive decline or used by some to portray him as someone ‘losing it’ because of age. In short, Biden’s age was completely irrelevant in the 2020 election, and no new evidence has surfaced in Biden’s more recent medical records to suggest otherwise.

When evaluating a person’s health status at more advanced ages, the standard of practice used by public health experts is a bit different than what is often portrayed by those who choose to weaponize age, or even among those who innocently draw conclusions that may not be appropriate.

For example, when President Biden fell off of his bicycle on June 18 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Biden was referred to as the commander-in-klutz, perpetuating a stereotype about an aging individual that can’t even keep his balance on a bicycle. The fact is his foot got caught in a foot strap as he slowed down to talk to people along the route – this has happened at one time or another to everyone that rides a bike with a foot strap.

What’s critical from a health perspective is not that President Biden fell off his bike, but the fact that was on a bicycle to begin with, which is a routine form of exercise for him – and a classic sign associated with exceptional fitness. Most 79-year-old men do not participate in this form of exercise – suggesting once again that Biden possesses attributes associated with superagers.

I’m certainly not going to sugarcoat aging. The risk of things going wrong with the human body and mind no doubt increases with age. In fact, my colleague and I documented and quantified the effect of time on mortality and health risk (see figure 5 in this link) – the doubling time is about every 7-8 years. That is, the risk of death and the risk of frailty and disability doubles during the entire 8 years that any president is in office – regardless of how old they are when first elected.

However, this rate of increase in risk does not apply to superagers, and it does not apply to presidents based on my own research. For these folks, biological time seems to tick at a slower pace relative to average. That is, one year of clock time is accompanied by less than one year of biological time. Presidents and presidential candidates seem to thrive on stress. This is why Biden’s age of 79 is probably not relevant, and it is precisely why he should not be compared with other men his age. On a biological level, he is likely to be many years, perhaps even decades younger than that. He would need to go through a more extensive examination to determine how much younger he is biologically, but superager signals are present in his medical records dating back many years.

I’ll close with this. When I ask my young graduate students – most often in their 20s – whether there is anything good about growing old, their uniform answer is no! They’re wrong, and I let them know it. Attributes that often improve with age include education, wisdom, experience, financial security, happiness, and a broad range of other attributes that many people enjoy at older ages, but which are often invisible to the young. In short, the issue of chronological age should be completely irrelevant when it comes to a possible second term for President Biden.