Politicians and the Problems of Age

Increased age heightens the risk of developing dementia.  Dementia heightens the risk of slips, trips, and falls, resulting in physical incapacitation.  Stumbling, bumbling seniors who are physically and mentally incapacitated should probably not serve -- serve -- as elected leaders.

A centerpiece of Nikki Haley’s rationale for her candidacy for president is that we need a new generation of leadership.  Some agree with her call for mental competency tests for politicians over age 75.  Some disagree, including, naturally, the American Association of Retired People.  The AARP asserts that it should be unacceptable to discriminate based on age. However, age is sometimes a bona-fide occupational consideration for politicians. 

Elected leaders need to show up, or at least be available. They need to vote; they need to visit constituents; they need to have stamina, and engage for long periods; they need to be able to concentrate, and to debate vigorously; they need to think clearly, free of brain fog.  In short, to hold public office requires vigor, and a candidate must, at a bare minimum, be ambulatory. 

Discrimination has a bad name, but sometimes it’s necessary -- not based on a candidate’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, orientation, or whatnot.  That’s forbidden, but discriminating tastes and choices concerning someone’s age, which demonstrably affects one’s abilities, can be a legitimate way to identify candidates with marginal mental competence, or dementia.  With dementia, the risks of injury from falling increases, something our senior politicians do a lot.

Studies indicate that persons with Alzheimer’s have gait and balance deficits. The National Health Service in the U.K. also documents that people with dementia are at greater risk of falling down because they, “are more likely to experience problems with mobility, balance and muscle weakness.” Unfortunately, our geriatric leaders are at greater risk of not remaining upright.

For example, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell just experienced another fall, resulting in his hospitalization.  The octogenarian also took a spill in 2019, fracturing his shoulder.  He seems to not only teeter politically, but his physical balance is untrustworthy.  Perhaps he’s having difficulty finding his wobbly way around. Time for a mental competency test?

How about Bernie Sanders?   His physical agility and balance is suspect, considering that he banged his head in a hotel shower, resulting in a nasty noggin gash. Other examples incude senators Angus King and Bob Casey.

Given Sanders’ blubbering performance on Bill Maher’s show, including his embarrassing failure to make a basic distinction between equality and equity -- he, of all people, should know that -- surely it’s not ageist to recommend a competency test.  He meets the risk prerequisites:  age, forgetfulness, and a balance deficit (fiscal and physical) forewarn an onset of dementia.

Patrick Leahy is another senator who may experience risk factors associated with dementia, including mobility, balance, and reaction time.  All must have been absent when he fell and broke his hip, requiring surgery.  Leahy is eighty-two years old, and the permanent politician is finally retiring. 

Falls account for the vast majority of emergency room visits by older adults.  Since the aged are more prone to falling as a result of dementia, it’s not ageist, at least not in a negative way, to politely guide them towards the cognitive testing center.  Or, they can conveniently take the test online. 

Feinstein doesn’t show up much at all, and is also prone to fall, as well as other age-related morbidities. She’s ranked fourth in the following table that shows the top ten most absent senators (missed votes) in 2022, along with their age (only two are under the full retirement age for most people):

                                                         Absent Senators 2022 (missed votes)


1 )


Sen. Mike Rounds [R-SD]




Sen. Richard Burr [R-NC]




Sen. Kevin Cramer [R-ND]




Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]




Sen. Pat Toomey [R-PA]




Sen. Jim Inhofe [R-OK]




Sen. Jerry Moran [R-KS]




Sen. John Barrasso [R-WY]




Sen. Bernie Sanders [I-VT]




Sen. Roy Blunt [R-MO]



The average age of U.S. Senators is 65.  Twenty-three percent of the members of Congress are over age 70, the age at which Elon Musk suggests they should be barred from running for political office.  Those already in office should be encouraged to attend the Fall Prevention Week activities so they are alert to tripping hazards during their dementia wanderings

Then there’s the Klutz-in-Chief himself -- demented Joe Biden.  Singlehandedly, he justifies Haley’s call to mentally test politicians over age 75; in fact, he needs his head examined thoroughly.  One has to hand it to him, though: he has mastered the art of falling up, especially when he ascends the stairs to Air Force One.  But he also loses to gravity, and should probably never get on a bike again.

Biden’s clumsiness and inability to navigate his personage are likely symptoms of deteriorating executive function, which is somewhat ironic since he’s the nation’s chief executive. Indeed, his dementia walks, including looking for Casper to shake hands with after a speech, are creepy.

Unfortunately, klutzy Biden also falls down on the job. In fact, in early March, 2023, the press secretary was defensive about Biden’s lack of public events, claiming that the “president is always working…” Actually, he could be a case example demonstrating the links between age, dementia, falls, wobbly wandering, and failure to show up. 

Is it ageist to cajole politicians over a certain age to submit to a mental competency test?  Maybe.  Is it justified?  You bet, especially if showing up to places like East Palestine, OH, or just the Senate floor, is important.  As Woody Allen reputedly said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  Preferably not in the hospital or shrink ward.  

Image: Gage Skidmore, Senate Democrats

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