As Biden’s memory issues draw attention, neurologists weigh in

Neurologists emphasize that misconceptions about cognitive changes in aging have arisen since a report by special counsel Robert Hur characterized President Joe Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory” last Thursday.

The report, focusing on Biden’s handling of classified documents, highlighted instances where the president struggled to recall specific details, such as his time as vice president and the period of his son Beau Biden’s passing. Despite this, Biden, in a press conference, defiantly asserted that his memory was intact.

Criticism also surfaced regarding the president mixing up names of foreign leaders, raising concerns about cognitive decline. However, neurologists argue that forgetting names or struggling with recalling details, especially under stress, is a normal aspect of aging.

Dr. Paul Newhouse, clinical core leader for the Vanderbilt Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, noted that forgetting names or specific dates is a common complaint among older individuals. He emphasized that such forgetfulness doesn’t necessarily predict memory disorders; a diagnosis should come from a person’s doctor or neurologist, not external observers.

Dr. Dennis Selkoe from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston concurred, stating that naming proper nouns is an inadequate basis for determining a progressive memory disorder. Stress and lack of sleep can impact memory, regardless of age.

Dr. Thomas Wisniewski from NYU Langone Health’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center highlighted that while older brains may struggle with retaining new information, other mental processes like decision-making and judgment can improve with age.

Concerns about memory arise when there is fuzziness about recent or past experiences, especially issues with episodic memory. Dr. Wisniewski becomes worried when individuals don’t recognize that they are forgetting things.

Neurologists prioritize assessing a patient’s ability to remember recent events over remote memories since dementia initially affects the brain’s part responsible for short-term memories.

In the discussion about aging, it’s crucial to acknowledge cognitive benefits that come with growing older. Dr. Selkoe emphasized the development of emotional intelligence and improved decision-making with greater longevity.