“I would be very interested for readers of Time Goes By to weigh in as objectively and honestly as possible on the age question. I barely qualify for the blog, so my insight is not the kind I'm looking for! I will say that my 80-year-old father - who is healthy and as intellectually sharp as ever - says that McCain is not up to the job and that age is a part of it. I get the impression that he sees McCain as an old 72. We've all heard about the forgetfulness in speeches and so forth.
“I'm not waving a red flag here or being deliberately provocative. But I also don't think that this is a matter of ageism. Consider parenting: At 53, I know a lot more than I did twenty years ago and would make better decisions. I also know that I simply don't have the energy for it and that that is a function of age.”
Citizen K asks a legitimate question, one I have thought about long and hard as I have closely watched the progression of the presidential campaign in general and Senator McCain over nearly two years. On a blog where the topic is steadfastly about age and its consequences, the question cannot be ignored.
So today and tomorrow will be devoted to consideration of Senator McCain’s age. Keep in mind that for reasons of policy issues, I support Senator Barack Obama and strongly oppose McCain. However, as far as it is humanly possible, I will keep it objective, reporting facts as they are known and clearly explaining my opinions. If you catch me going off track, speak up. And I look forward to additional thoughts and responses from you.
OVERVIEW OF OLD AGE
In the past, I have vehemently argued that to vote against Senator McCain based solely on the number of his years is ageist and morally reprehensible. I stand by that. But there is more to age than simple arithmetic.
Seventy-two sounds like Methuselah to young people, but the fact is that we age at dramatically different rates depending on health, genes and plain dumb luck. Some 50-year-olds already show signs of physical and/or cognitive impairment; some 80-year-olds are running corporations and even, occasionally, marathons. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
Some recent research shows that aging brains are much more resilient and adaptive than previously known. As one example, elders make greater simultaneous use of both sides of their brains calling forth a wider range of experiential input than in youth, leading to better judgment and what one brain researcher calls “biological wisdom.”
This is good news, but the most important thing to remember about how we age is how individual it is. Development in infants and toddlers can be measured to the month and even week of life, and if the kid isn’t walking or talking by the expected time, it can be cause for concern. But in elders, one person’s memory difficulties at, say, age 72, can be non-existent in another.
So the question in considering Senator McCain’s age is not the number itself, but whether McCain’s condition at age 72 is healthy and sharp enough to endure the responsibilities and pressures of a tough job at any time in history and a tougher one now given the multitude of domestic and international crises that must be addressed with intelligence, stamina and judgment.
With the dozens of debates, hundreds of speeches and innumerable interviews with journalists, there is plenty of information about Senator McCain on which voters can base that assessment. Elders are uniquely qualified to do so; we are already old, few of us are at the extremes of the aging spectrum mentioned above, and we know how age has and has not changed us.
Over the past 15 years, Senator McCain has had four melanomas, all surgically removed. Only one, in 2000, was invasive and doctors found no evidence of spreading following dissection of dozens of lymph glands.
When his plane crashed in Vietnam in 1967, both arms and a leg were broken. Under torture, both shoulders were broken. Lack of treatment while a prisoner has left Senator McCain with a limited range of motion in his arms and shoulders. His diet was less than adequate during his imprisonment.
McCain uses several medications: a diuretic to prevent kidney stones (some bladder stones were blasted with a laser several years ago); Zyrtec for nasal allergies; aspirin to prevent the formation of blood clots; Ambien CR for insomnia; and a multivitamin, all of which are relatively common among people of his age.
Neither the melanoma nor effects from the broken bones are age-related, and following his last physical examination in March 2008, physicians pronounced the senator in “excellent health.” (More on McCain's March physical here.)
However, the reports of his medical exams do not make any mention of normal decline of aging. Speaking only for myself, four-and-a-half years younger than Senator McCain, I know how my energy and stamina – both physical and cognitive - have changed in the past ten years or so.
- All my energy is concentrated in the first half of the day. If my to-do list doesn't get done by mid-afternoon, it isn’t going to happen today. My mind becomes fuzzy late in the day, detailed thinking is difficult. Tasks as simple as sorting laundry or running the vacuum cleaner feel like too much and I leave them for tomorrow.
- Stamina is lacking. Gone are the days when I could work 10 or 12 hours, shop and cook dinner for four, clean up the kitchen and go out to the movies.
- I must write my blog posts early on the day before they are posted. Whenever you read a post that is poorly written, lacking detail and especially when it is badly organized, you would win if you bet it was written after 3PM.
- When my regular schedule is disrupted as with house guests or travel or circumstances force me to do with less than seven hours of sleep, sloth sets in. I need a day to fully recover my physical and mental capabilities.
- Sometimes and unpredictably, even when I have slept well and have not disrupted my routine, I have an overwhelming urge for a nap in the afternoon. And if there is to be an evening engagement, I always need a nap to be sure I won’t fall asleep in the soup.
I believe that I'm smarter, better informed and make better connections among many disparate pieces of information than I could when I was younger. But not after 3PM. I would never undertake a decision that requires judgment in any of the above circumstances. I know from friends my age and many of you when we have discussed aging here, that all these changes are fairly typical after 50 or 60.
It is conceivable that Senator McCain does not suffer from these debilities. But a little-reported fact is that although the McCain campaign attacked Senator Obama for taking a week’s vacation with his family in Hawaii, McCain, with rare exceptions, did not campaign on weekends during the long primary season.
Did he need those weekends to rest up from five days on the road? It is a reasonable question because events that require a president’s immediate attention and judgment do not happen only on weekdays during office hours.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Daisy takes us back to an earlier Republican Convention in I Wish Someone Would Phone.]