Cognitive Degeneration

On Sept. 20, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi essentially rebooted in the middle of an interview with George Stephanopolous. In the middle of answering a question, the Speaker stopped abruptly, tilted her head, said, “Good morning, Sunday morning,” smiled and continued to answer the question. Pelosi, 80, is second in the line of succession to the presidency after Vice President Mike Pence. 

The age of our national leadership should be concerning no matter what side of the political debate you find yourself on.

Right now, the average age in the Senate is 61. Half of the senate is currently eligible for Medicare, meaning they are at least 65. The average age in the House of Representatives is 51, and 35% of the house — 153 members — are 65 or older. 

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s begin to manifest when a person is in their mid-60s, and, according to a D.C. pharmacist in 2017, a number of members of Congress took medication for Alzheimer’s.

With the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I have been wondering how long our democracy will outlive her. With the rush to fill her seat with a conservative justice, any decision regarding the election is bound to be viewed by some as illegitimate. 

When the country was founded, the framers of the Constitution saw fit to ensure that our representatives in the Senate and Oval Office were of a certain age. But in 1790, a 15-year-old could expect to live until 59 for a female and 60 for a male. In 2014, the life expectancy for a 15-year-old female was 81 and 76 for a male.

The framers clearly did not foresee how long the average person would live in 2020. Just as the Senate and Presidency must be filled with those who have a certain level of experience, we must also adopt a constitutional amendment that forces those of a certain age into retirement at the end of their current term.

While some of my favorite senators are also some of the oldest, the same goes for some of my least favorite senators. For every Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey or Elizabeth Warren, you have a Chuck Grassley, a Mitch McConnell or a Chuck Schumer. 

Those who disagree with me might argue that older legislators carry with them a wealth of experience that can help the country. However, I would contend that the country is more harmed by elderly legislators than it is helped.

These legislators have largely been entirely unwilling to undertake any meaningful action to combat climate change. This inaction on the foremost issue of the century is, I believe, a result of only two things: they either benefit in some way financially from the destruction of our environment, or they have made the simple calculation that climate change is not a thing they need to worry about personally as they are banking on being dead by the time it becomes a seriously pressing issue.

With two of the oldest presidential candidates for the second time in a row, and with both candidates showing signs of potentially poor cognitive health, a maximum age requirement to hold office is one of the most reasonable proposals that can be made. 

Nick Finan is a sophomore secondary social science education major. Reach him at