ABC: McCain Psychologically Damaged? Suffer Dementia? Die Soon?

Not waiting until the actual Friday release of John McCain's medical records, on Thursday's World News anchor Charles Gibson (who's 65) and Dr. Tim Johnson (who at 72 is older than McCain) speculated about McCain's health. Gibson wondered about “psychological damage” from his POW captivity. Assured there's no evidence of that, Gibson jumped to wonder how much longer McCain has to live, a question which led Johnson to warn, that while McCain may live another 16 years, there's a decent chance he'll develop “dementia.”

Gibson asked: “There's also an enormous amount of medical records involving the time that he was in captivity in North Vietnam to check to see what physical damage he suffered and maybe what psychological damage.” Johnson replied that Navy psychiatrists monitored McCain “for many years after his release. They found no evidence of any serious problem. And he strongly denies any symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.” Gibson pounced with a new line of fear: “But he's 71 years old. What do the actuarial tables say about a man who's 71 years old?” Johnson explained they say he should live to 87, but:
Much more difficult, of course, to predict any change in mental acuity. At age 71, there's about a 30 percent chance of developing serious memory loss or even dementia.
Johnson did at least add: “But experts point out that with aging maybe some skills such as judgment get better.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the segment on the Thursday, May 22 World News on ABC, picking up after a report on the McCain-Obama split on the new so-called “GI Bill of Rights”:
CHARLES GIBSON: While on the subject of John McCain, his campaign will release his medical records late tomorrow, giving a few reporters a limited look at those records. But we've already learned a great deal about what his health records will show. Our medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson, helps explain McCain's health report.

Tim, let's start with what you see when you look at McCain, a rather large scar on the left side of his face. What was done? And why?

DR. TIM JOHNSON: He had surgery in the fall of 2000 to remove a melanoma from his left temple. It was about the size of a nickel. Then they decided to dissect surgically down his face and into his neck to examine lymph nodes. They found no evidence of cancer. They made the decision not to do any further treatment. So, he had a 2-A stage invasive melanoma. The prediction for such a person is about a 30 percent mortality rate over the next ten years. But the fact that he survived eight years, say experts, is a very good sign. He obviously has careful skin examinations three or four times a year.

CHARLES GIBSON: There's also an enormous amount of medical records involving the time that he was in captivity in North Vietnam to check to see what physical damage he suffered and maybe what psychological damage.

TIM JOHNSON: Well, he clearly suffered many orthopedic injuries upon ejection from the plane. He broke both his arms and a leg, and during captivity, the guards brutalized him. He suffered fractures in both shoulders and many ribs. So he clearly has some limitations of motion, especially in raising his arms. However, there is no evidence that those injuries have affected his activity level or his energy level. Now, the emotional part is harder to assess. He was carefully assessed by Navy psychiatrists for many years after his release. They found no evidence of any serious problem. And he strongly denies any symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

GIBSON: But he's 71 years old. What do the actuarial tables say about a man who's 71 years old?

JOHNSON: The actuarial tables say that if you make it to 71 in overall good health, your life expectancy is about 16 years. That would be age 87. I think that's surprising to many people. Much more difficult, of course, to predict any change in mental acuity. At age 71, there's about a 30 percent chance of developing serious memory loss or even dementia, but experts point out that with aging maybe some skills such as judgment get better. So, Charlie, the old cliche is certainly true in this case: Time will tell.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center