Real Talk about Clinton's Health (and Trump's)

I suppose it would be ideal if we had access to a full set of each candidate’s medical records and the American public could made an educated, impartial judgment about what weight, if any, should be given to the candidates’ respective health conditions. We’re not likely to get that, at least in part because both candidates are experienced manipulators of the facts and of the public at large, and also because there is a sense that Presidential candidates should have some privacy, at least.

I’m frankly fine with that because the idea that the public does a very good job of making educated, impartial judgments during a political season is one that has been proven false repeatedly throughout American history. For evidence, note that they elected Barack Obama twice, and then this year gave us Trump and Clinton to choose from. So to the extent that one of these candidates is really hiding something that ought to have a serious bearing on anyone’s vote, we’ll probably never get conclusive evidence of it. We’re gonna have some posturing and some showmanship over the next couple of weeks, both Clinton and Trump are going to produce doctors who will proclaim that they are the healthiest people in human history, and probably this thing will settle back to baseline.

That’s not to say, though, that any of us ought to be ignorant of what the future holds for this country, regardless of who gets elected and what you think about their current state of health. It’s important to think about these things because some are harboring the hope that one candidate or the other will somehow improve after they get into office in some way. In no way is that likely to occur.

Clinton is currently 69 and Trump is 70. That means that the next Presidential term will cover some of the ugliest years in terms of performance decline for humans in virtually every aspect of living.

First and most importantly, age 70 is when the brain is believed to finally catch up to the body in terms of beginning aggressive deterioration. On average, human brain size deteriorates about 5% a decade beginning at age 40. However, when humans hit 70, the process of the physical deterioration of the brain accelerates at an exponential pace. The physical deterioration of the brain is accompanied by, in the short term, a drastically reduced ability to learn new information (the brain shows remarkable resiliance in retaining long-term memories during most of this phase). Older people are simply not as able to “bone up” by cramming in large amounts of information in a short time period. So if either of the candidates has a current glaring knowledge deficit that bothers you, don’t go expecting them to remedy this after they assume office; most likely, they physically can’t.

The greatly expanding American life expectancy is due in part to both reduction of “young” mortality by better hygiene, treatment and cure of acute diseases, and improved management of long-term acute conditions. But many or most of these long-term conditions are beyond our ability to cure or completely avoid, especially as people get older. Type II diabetes, chronic heart conditions and dysrhythmias, and numerous other problems start to affect people in their 70s even if they have taken reasonably good care of themselves. You live longer and all your organ systems get less efficient and more fragile and it’s virtually impossible to pass through this stage of life without developing some problem that requires regular medical intervention.

Now look, it’s entirely possible that Clinton or Trump will beat the aging curve and continue to perform at almost current levels for the next four years – whatever you think about what those levels might be. But any hope that either of these two is going to improve in terms of their physical capacity to do the job of being President is incredibly foolhardy.

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