No one can predict how a single individual will fare. The medical report the White House released last year was a summary of findings by the president’s longtime personal physician, Dr. Kevin C. O’Connor, who proclaimed him a “healthy, vigorous, 78- year-old male.” But the White House has not released underlying lab documents, as Mr. Biden did when he was running for office; Andrew Bates, the deputy press secretary, said Mr. Biden would have another physical “in the coming months.”
Dr. O’Connor reported that the president takes prescription medicine to control his cholesterol and atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat. He also noted two specific changes in Mr. Biden’s health: He had experienced “increasing frequency and severity of ‘throat clearing’” while speaking, probably due to acid reflux, and he had some stiffness in his gait.
Both are common in older people, said Dr. Dan Blazer, professor emeritus and psychiatric epidemiologist at Duke University School of Medicine. The same, he said, goes for Mr. Biden’s verbal stumbles — including the time he searched an audience for a congresswoman, apparently forgetting that she had died the previous month.
“Slippage of memory is something that is usual, but it is not a real deficit,” said Dr. Blazer, who led a committee of experts that examined “cognitive aging” for the National Academy of Sciences in 2015. He described such slippage this way: “They forget, they remember they have forgotten and they eventually remember what they have forgotten.”
Once people reach 65, the risk of dementia doubles every five years, said Dr. Gill Livingston, a psychiatrist at University College London, who led a commission on dementia in 2020 that was convened by The Lancet, a medical journal. In general, she said, in high-income countries like the United States, dementia will affect 10 percent of people aged 80 to 84 and 20 percent of those aged 85 to 89.
Mr. Biden did not undergo cognitive screening during his last physical, and experts are divided about its necessity for older adults. In 2019, the American Academy of Neurologists recommended annual screenings for those 65 and older because “age itself is a significant risk factor for cognitive decline.” But in 2020, a federal panel of independent experts declined to endorse it, saying there was not enough research to determine the “balance of benefits and harms.”