Tip Sheets

Cornell expert says Trump’s frequent phonemic paraphasia ‘are signs of early dementia’

Media Contact

Damien Sharp

As the 2024 U.S. presidential campaigns heat up, both camps are watching closely for gaffes from the two presidential frontrunners, in an effort to discredit the other over age and psychological capacity.

Harry Segal is a senior lecturer in the Psychology Department at Cornell University and in the Psychiatry Department at Weill Cornell Medicine. His research focus includes the study of personality disorders, future life anticipation and young adult development.

Harry Segal

Senior Lecturer

“In the 2024 election, both party candidates have been accused by the other of having psychological deficits. This weaponizing of clinical concepts is no doubt confusing to voters and journalists. A careful consideration of these claims can demystify their use as ‘opposition research.’

“Objectively, Donald Trump has a documented history of lying that is so marked as to be considered 'pathological.' Politicians often say untrue things, but the frequency of Trump’s lying is so extreme as to meet criteria for sociopathic behavior, since he tells falsehoods across all life domains, from his personal relationships to business dealings and finally to politics. Recently, several clinicians have noted the ways he has begun to mistake words, lose his train of thought, confuse Biden with Obama, particularly during long rallies held in the evening. There are examples of phonemic paraphasia – swapping parts of words for others that sound similar; these are signs of early dementia, even though they are intermittent.

“The complaints about Joe Biden have been more vague – citing his advanced age, physical fragility and occasional mixing up of names. But there is no evidence of dementia onset, no ‘sun-downing,’ no reports from staff or cabinet members that he is failing to stay on top of legislative or international issues. This in contrast to Trump whose cabinet at the end of his term considered invoking the 25th amendment.

“This is not a partisan take. If the figures here were reversed, I would make the same judgment.”

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