Why is ageing an issue in Biden's and Trump's presidential campaigns? - Hindustan Times

Why is ageing an issue in Joe Biden's and Donald Trump's presidential campaigns?

Feb 11, 2024 08:31 AM IST

Concerns rise over fitness of Joe Biden and Donald Trump as age becomes a focus

The prospect of an ageing presidential match-up between Joe Biden and Donald Trump has sparked concerns about the fitness of both candidates for the highest office.

Former US president Donald Trump (left) and US President Joe Biden (AFP)
Former US president Donald Trump (left) and US President Joe Biden (AFP)

Despite being less than four years apart in age, the focus has shifted towards Biden's perceived lapses in memory and changes in behaviour, fueling worries about his ability to handle another term.

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Critics, like Iowa independent Travis Aslin, highlight Biden's apparent struggles with coherence, stating, “Look at everything that's gone on in the last three years with that dude…honest to God, he looks like my grandfather did. My grandfather had Alzheimer's.”

Neurologists weigh in on Biden's ‘elderly man with a poor memory’ concern

The recent report on Biden's handling of classified documents by Special Counsel Robert Hur, who described him as a "sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory," further intensified the narrative.

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However, neurologists warn that the report by special counsel Hur, which called President Joe Biden an “elderly man with a poor memory,” has led to misunderstandings about how ageing affects cognition.

Biden and Trump spar over age

While Biden's team attempts to deflect attention by pointing out Trump's own flubs, including confusing political figures, voters express concerns about Biden's limited public appearances and perceived lack of transparency.

Republican small-business owner Scott Strunc notes a difference in access, saying, “There's not a hesitancy by Trump, but there seems to be a protection of President Biden.”

As the campaigns prepare to scrutinize each other's fitness for office, the age factor takes center stage. A Gallup survey indicates that fewer than a third of Americans would vote for a nominee over eighty years old, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that three-quarters of Americans, including over half of Democrats, think Biden is too old for government.

Media coaching expert Beverly Hallberg notes changes in Biden's speech pattern, describing it as "slurring" and "mumbling," a setback from his earlier days as vice president when he sounded strong and clear. Superficial factors like Biden's grey hair and less youthful skin also contribute to voter perceptions of his age.

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On the other hand Trump's spokesperson, Steven Cheung, asserts, "There is no other candidate in history who has the energy and stamina President Trump has." Biden's campaign, however, focuses on issues like tax cuts, abortion, and democracy protection.

A 21-year-old Democrat from Iowa, Ethan Hughes, expresses some reservations about Biden's age but emphasizes other factors, stating, "I am concerned; eighty is old and you do need a president who can do the job… He does look healthy. He's on his bike all the time. He's walking around. Eating a bit too much ice cream, maybe, but who wouldn't?"

What are normal memory changes due to ageing?

Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, who leads the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Center for Cognitive Neurology at NYU Langone Health, explained that older brains may struggle more with learning and recalling new information, but they can also enhance their decision-making and judgment skills with age.

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He said, “Although the raw power of memory has some degree of decline, perhaps wisdom can increase because the individual has a greater backlog of experiences and different situations as to what is the best thing to do.”

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