Oct. 28, 2020 -- Uncertainty and contention surround the presidential election that is mere days away, but there is one thing we know for sure: No matter who wins, the next president of the United States will be the oldest to ever take office.
President Donald Trump set the most recent record when he was sworn in at the age of 70. Now 74, he is only slightly younger than the soon-to-be 78-year-old Joe Biden.
So just how healthy is Biden? Quite healthy, according to the most recent medical assessment released by Biden’s doctor in December 2019. The report from Kevin O’Connor, DO, associate professor of Medicine at George Washington University, called Biden “vigorous” and fit to successfully be president.
The information in the assessment noted that Biden is taking blood thinners and medication for acid reflux, cholesterol, and seasonal allergies.
Biden does not use tobacco or drink alcohol and exercises 5 days a week, O’Connor said.
In addition to several sinus surgeries, Biden has had his gallbladder removed and has had several non-melanoma skin cancers removed.
At the time of the exam, he was 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighed 178 pounds, and had a blood pressure of 128/84.
O’Connor said when he first met Biden in 2009, the then-vice president had episodic atrial fibrillation, which is when the heart occasionally begins to beat out of rhythm. But by the time of the assessment, O’Connor said Biden no longer had symptoms of atrial fibrillation.
Medical professionals say evaluating Biden’s chronological age is not the best way to tell whether he should be president.
“An older person who has an active lifestyle and is consistently being challenged cognitively can fulfill those duties,” says Richard Dupee, MD, chief of geriatrics at Tufts Medical Center. “Someone who is 95 could have the memory of someone who is several decades younger.”
Although Biden has said he would serve only one term if elected, he is in good enough health to probably survive even a second term, according to an academic paper released by the American Federation for Aging Research. Biden has a 79% chance of living through a first term and a 70% chance of surviving through a second term, the paper states.
There are, of course, increased health risks that come with age -- particularly a risk of cognitive decline, Dupee said. Above the age of 65, a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles about every 5 years. Dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six people over 80.
But there are things that put people at risk, Dupee said, particularly for vascular dementia, which occurs when not enough blood is getting to the brain. Those include smoking, being overweight, lack of exercise, and diabetes.
“If there were lifestyle issues that would increase risk of vascular dementia for him, we'd know that,” Dupee said. “That doesn't seem to be the case.”
Though in good health now, Biden has not been free of medical complications. He had two brain aneurysms in 1988, which were treated. A brain aneurysm is a bulging blood vessel in the brain, which can potentially lead to stroke if untreated. One of the two did rupture, and although he had deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism afterward, his doctor has said this poses no current risk to his health.
The risks for brain aneurysms increase with age, with most diagnosed after 40. They’re most prevalent in people ages 35 to 60.
This part of Biden’s medical history is not particularly significant when predicting his future health, says Cameron McDougall, MD, head of endovascular neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Anyone can have an aneurysm, he says, and there is only a 10%-20% chance someone will have another episode.
“It does happen, but it's not the majority of patients by any means,” he says. “If aneurysms are well-treated, they shouldn't have any ongoing impact.”