The presidency should have an age maximum

October 14, 2019 — by Anna Novoselov

Aging brings cognitive declines and physical health ailments that can prevent candidates from exhibiting the focus and reasonableness the Oval Office demands.

Earlier this month, 78-year-old Vermont Senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was hospitalized after experiencing a heart attack near Las Vegas. Yet a few days later, he was back on the campaign trail claiming that he is in perfect condition, despite many speculations about his declining physical and mental health due to old age. 

Many other frontliners in the race are also in their 70s — such as former Vice President Joe Biden (76), Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (70) and President Donald Trump (73). Like Sanders, their age may hinder them from exhibiting the focus and quick decision-making demanded of the president, which is one of the most influential positions in the United States and perhaps even the world. 

Given the obvious impairments that come with aging, there should be a maximum age limit of about 65 to run for president, since mental decline begins to accelerate after this age, even though it begins as early as at 45-years-old, according to Bmj. The official who holds the presidency should be able to perform at the peak of his or her abilities and be able to make rational decisions while handling the stress that comes with the position.

Besides that, studies done by Emory prove that aging results in a cognitive decline, such as a poorer memory and diminished verbal capacities. While problem solving and intelligence doesn’t decline with time, processing speed, the ability to multi-task and the ability to apply new ways of thinking to issues may diminish. 

Old age also brings with it a myriad of health complications, such as reduced functioning of senses, like a loss of hearing, and an increase in the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Although life expectancy is gradually increasing, the average life expectancy for white males was about 76 years old in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is older than some of the current candidates would be when leaving office in early 2025.

 The oldest president to date is Ronald Reagan, who left his second term in office at 77 and reportedly experienced cognitive declines that may have impacted his ability to run the Oval Office. In fact, he was diagnosed with Alzeimer’s five years after the end of his presidency. A recent study by Arizona State University found that as he aged, his speeches included an increased use of nonspecific nouns, repetitive words and the word “thing,” which could have been signs of early onset dementia.

If Sanders was elected, he would leave the presidency at 83 years old; if Trump or Biden were elected, they would almost be in their 80s.

Many journalists, such as senior media writer Jack Shafer, pointed out Biden’s stumbling over words, somewhat slow responses and minor memory lapses during the September Democratic Presidential Primary Debate. Others attribute part of Trump’s spread of false information, obsessiveness and inability to filter thoughts to declining mental function.

While older candidates may bring the wisdom and experience that comes with their age, voters should consider whether they would truly be able to run the country effectively and make reasonable decisions that affect millions of individuals. Since there is a minimum age for running for president — 35 — it makes sense to have a maximum age too.

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