Alzheimer’s Author Raises Question of Aging US Political Leadership

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by Mary Chapman |

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The author of a new book on Alzheimer’s disease is raising questions about whether aging should be more of a concern when it comes to U.S. political leaders.

“Age is the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease,” stated a press release from author Lisa Skinner, announcing the publication of her book, “Truth, Lies & Alzheimer’s — Its Secret Faces.” It adds: “A person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years after the age of 65. … By the time a person reaches the age of 85, 1 in 3 people will have it.”

Despite such statistics, Americans don’t seem fazed about electing older politicians, according to Skinner, a behavioral specialist, licensed in California, with a 20-year career as a community counselor. Her book seeks to help people tell the difference between normal aging and common early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Skinner said it’s important to consider the cognitive health and fitness of the nation’s political leadership, since these lawmakers make key decisions that affect all citizens.

“One of the key functions that our brains perform is that of perception,” Skinner said. “In a person living with dementia, the ability to perceive things the same way you do diminishes and will affect that person’s judgment both visually and conceptually. Their level of confusion will increase over time.”

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While she’s not questioning the cognitive capabilities of any politician, Skinner noted the advancing ages of current legislators from both major political parties.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is 82, while Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader is 80. U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, Pelosi’s deputy, is 83, while Congressman Jim Clyburn is 81. Sen. Charles Grassley, who’s been in office since Jimmy Carter was president, is 88, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 89.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is 79, and Donald Trump, the country’s former commander in chief, recently turned 76.

Former President Ronald Reagan publicized his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 1994, at age 83 — five years after his presidency ended. While in office, however, particularly in later years, Reagan’s cognitive health was frequently a topic of discussion.

Don Lemon, a host on the CNN network, said it’s important that the nation’s residents know the “health, history, both physically and mentally,” of every U.S. president. “I’m not as sharp as I used to be,” said Lemon, 56. “And the job of the United States is a really, really tough job.”

It’s standard protocol for presidential candidates to take physical exams and for those results to be made public. However, Skinner wonders whether there should be mechanisms in place for assessing such candidates’ past and current mental health.

She cited a study in which Jonathan Davidson of Duke University Medical Center examined biographical information on U.S. presidents from 1776 to 1974. The research uncovered that around half the men had experienced cognitive decline.

All this is why it’s important that people are better equipped to distinguish between memory changes due to forms of dementia and those related to age, Skinner contends. Early disease symptoms can include, for example, forgetting appointments or repeating questions after already hearing answers. There also may be early mood and personality changes.

That’s why Skinner wrote her book, she says.

“I wanted to take action — not just stand idly on the sidelines and wait to see what happens,” she said.  “It is important to be proactive, learn about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and memory loss, take action, and get involved in the process.”