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A Cognitive Test is Better Than an Age Limit for Our Aging Politicians

Representing the American population is one of the most pressuring and crucial jobs in the U.S., perhaps even the world. The United States is one of the most powerful countries globally influencing many nations culturally, politically and economically. Representing this country means making decisions that affect not only Americans but also foreign citizens because many countries have a close relationship with the United States. Such pressure should only be handled by those able to consider every significant aspect before making important policy decisions.

Concerning Scenes in Congress and the White House

With life expectancy constantly rising (except for 2020 and 2021 mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic), so does the median age for Congress lawmakers, especially since the 1990s. Today, more than 50% of federal elected officials are 60 years old or older and 15 of them are over 80 years old. Congress is currently older than it has ever been, putting in question its members' ability to represent the American population.

Many older politicians recently experienced health issues on national television. For example, the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell froze twice last year during interviews. For a moment, he became speechless during the interview. Earlier this year, he stated his plans to retire after the presidential election in November.

Earlier in 2023, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was 90 years old and suffering from a “cognitive decline,” voted the day before her death.

These scenarios are similar to what we observed in the White House. Joe Biden, 82 years old, and Donald Trump, 78 years old, both experienced moments of confusion since their 2024 presidential bid. When citizens witness such health issues from many of their country leaders, it is normal for them to wonder if an age limit should be instituted.

Age Limit: Not Addressing the Root of the Problem

Such a limit is a bold concept, but a politician's age is not the true issue. Rather, the main problem resides in their health issues. However, what determines which health issues influence a politician's ability to govern? A survey conducted by YouGov and CBS demonstrated that the majority of Americans want to instate an age limit, and their top choice was 70 years old.

However, McConnell and Feinstein did not show clear cognitive or health issues when they were 75 years old. If there were a 70-year-old limit, Congress would lose expert politicians with decades of experience in the legislative institution. Moreover, the citizens of their district would have lost their reputed candidate. Such an age limit would not make sense. 

Representative Jamie Raskin back in 2022 was diagnosed with Lymphoma, a type of cancer. However, he was still able to govern and participate in hearings even though he was receiving chemotherapy treatments. 

Should he be removed from office because he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness? No, because he still showed his treatment does not affect his work. 

The problem is not politicians' age or health issues in general, but specifically cognitive issues.

As stated earlier, the politicians in the United States are crucial decision-makers for dozens of nations, if not more. If they suffer mental decline and cannot understand the issues they are voting on, it could be catastrophic for hundreds of millions of human beings. 

Yes, only a few politicians showed cognitive issues, but in a tense and polarized Congress with thin majorities like the one currently serving, every vote matters because it can change the results.

Is a Cognitive Test Necessary?

Nikki Haley, in the first few months of her presidential primary bid, proposed to use the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. This cognitive test, if rightfully evaluated and analyzed, can reveal signs of cognitive decline in a patient but cannot diagnose cognitive diseases. 

The best alternative to an age limit for politicians is a cognitive test. American politicians represent, defend and protect our democracy.  I would prefer a 75-year-old politician with an acute understanding of Congressional proceedings and international issues with no mental illness to be my politician instead of a 55-year-old suffering from grave degenerative cognitive issues like Alzheimer's. 

It is a hard truth, but we, the electors, have the responsibility to vote not only for candidates who represent our values but also for someone who can quickly make decisions coherently and adapt to the chaotic lifestyle that is being a politician. 

Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the individual author. 


May 31

Cognitive exams seem like a great idea, ensuring mental competency of those who run the country definitely should be a priority of the government. I am more curious about how such a test could be created and who would administer it, in order to avoid bias. I would also want to know how failure of such a test would be quantified and whether resignation would be required after failure of a test. This is certainly a great idea but I think those are some questions which would need to be answered.


Hi Gabriel,

Your idea for cognitive testing makes a lot of sense and could definitely be beneficial to our democracy. However, I can't completely disagree with implementing an upper age limit. Considering the statics you cited, more than 50% of our politicians are over 60. However, only roughly 20% of the American people are that old. So, I fear that such loose age restrictions lead a vast majority of American age groups to be unrepresented on the congressional floor. With that being said, a cognitive test would certainly fix some of the issues.


Adrian H
Adrian H
May 31

Hello Gabriel,

I actually think a cognitive test or assessment is good idea, especially from how you presented it. Though it is tough to watch certain politicians literally seem to wither away during the course of their lives, this cognitive test I think actually puts a reasonable cap onto how capable older politicians are. However, I wonder if there is another way to acquire the years of experience said politicians have another way, like either through writing down of principles or what not, or even an apprentice or assistant.

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