Last week, concerns about US President Joe Biden’s health arose following a report by Prosecutor Robert Harr regarding his classified documents case. The report claimed that Biden, as an elderly man, struggles with memory problems, even forgetting key dates from his time as vice president and the date of his son’s death. Following the report, Biden made several mistakes during his media address, including misnaming the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as the President of Mexico, and confusing past leaders of France and Germany with their predecessors. These incidents have raised concerns about Biden’s cognitive state and whether these signs of forgetfulness and poor memory might indicate the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Prof. Eli Mizrahi, an expert in geriatrics and psychogeriatrics from Tel Aviv University, explains that memory disorders fall into two categories. The first is a benign ‘remembering’ disorder, where the information is present in the brain but difficult to retrieve. This disorder is common with aging and may lead to dementia in 1-2% of those affected. The second is ‘Age Associated Memory Impairment’, a non-benign cognitive disorder that indicates a decrease in short-term memory. In this case, changes in the brain tissue, similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease, can be observed. Around 12% of those with this mild memory disorder will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Defining the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s, Prof. Mizrahi explains that dementia is a decline in mental capacity that affects daily functioning. While Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60% of all dementia cases, it affects higher functions such as driving, planning, and decision-making in its early stages. As dementia progresses, the ability to perform basic actions such as bathing, eating and going to the bathroom is also impaired.
So how significant was the report?
Biden actually devoted an entire press conference to rebutting the claims.
At first he seemed quite sharp, even if tired and slow, but then came the moment that everyone will remember, when he called the President of Egypt Al-Sisi the President of Mexico.
Magnificent own goal.
(And by the way, contrary to what was published on many websites in Israel, he did not call for a response… https://t.co/ICWwaSnIzg pic.twitter.com/ERArAEthIE
— David Oppenheim (@Duduoppe) February 9, 2024
Assessing whether President Biden’s forgetfulness indicates a cognitive problem, Prof. Mizrahi states that it’s not possible to determine his cognitive state based solely on press conferences. However, the fact that Biden is confusing names of key international figures does raise red flags. A thorough assessment would require discussions with family members or his staff to understand if there’s a decline in his daily cognitive function, and how he is managing routine tasks.