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Biden just got a physical. But a cognitive test was not part of the assessment

President Biden walks out of the White House on Feb. 28 to board Marine One for a short trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for his annual physical.
Andrew Harnik
President Biden walks out of the White House on Feb. 28 to board Marine One for a short trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for his annual physical.

Updated February 28, 2024 at 5:04 PM ET

President Biden got his latest physical on Wednesday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — an evaluation that the White House said drew on the expertise of 20 doctors but did not involve a cognitive exam.

The summary of the exam will be closely scrutinized since Biden, now 81, is the oldest person ever to hold the office of U.S. president, and voters have expressed concern that he is too old for a second four-year term in the job.

Concerns about Biden's age were amplified this month by a special counsel report about Biden's handling of classified material that described him as a "sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory."

Biden did not have a cognitive test as part of his physical

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that his doctors determined that he didn't need a cognitive exam — though Biden's longtime doctor did not address the matter directly inhis report.

"He passes a cognitive test every day," Jean-Pierre said, describing the challenges of the job, which she said was more rigorous than a 15-minute cognitive test could be.

Biden's medical reports from November 2021 and February 2023 also did not include any references to tests or evaluations of his memory or cognition.

Former President Donald Trump — the front-runner in the race to be the Republican candidate in this year's presidential election — has bragged about taking a cognitive test when he was president.

Biden has noted that, at age 77, Trump is almost as old as he is and also sometimes mixes up names.

Biden has deflected concerns about his age

Biden was angry with the assessment in the special counsel report, telling reporters "my memory is fine" — before mistakenly referring to the president of Mexico when he meant Egypt.

The White House has since taken pains to show Biden managing a busy schedule of campaign travel and other public appearances, where he often tries to use humor to reassure people about his age.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that none of his results had changed from last year other than that "they think I look too young."

Last week, at a fundraising event in Beverly Hills, Calif., Biden joked with donors that "I may not run as fast as I used to" but said that his age has brought him "a little bit of wisdom about how we can get things done."

Biden is using a CPAP machine most nights

In his memo, Biden's longtime physician, Kevin O'Connor, talked about Biden's sleep apnea. It's an issue that he did not discuss in his 2023 and 2021 reports, though he did in 2019 when Biden was running for president.

O'Connor said Biden had a formal sleep study in spring of last year and has since been using a CPAP machine to help him sleep better. O'Connor said that it took a while for Biden to get used to it but that the president uses one almost every night. The White House disclosed his use of the machine in June after reporters noticed he appeared to have marks on his face from straps used to hold the machine's mask in place.

Biden is doing more stretching and added one new medication for acid reflux

O'Connor said Biden has had a "mildly decreased range of motion" due to arthritis, including in his hip. He prescribed more intensive stretching for that.

Biden has also added one over-the-counter medicine to his regime: Nexium, for acid reflux, which O'Connor said causes his frequent throat clearing. The president continues to takes five other medications:

  • two over-the-counter allergy medicines for seasonal allergies
  • Pepcid for acid reflux
  • a blood thinner for atrial fibrillation, which was diagnosed in the past, with no signs of heart failure
  • Crestor, a statin to help keep his cholesterol levels controlled

O'Connor said Biden weighs 178 pounds — exactly what he weighed last year. He continues to have normal blood sugar levels, and he exercises at least five days a week.

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Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.