Alzheimer’s Prevalence in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve

How many of the fifteen men in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? Of course I don’t know the answer to this question. I can give you an estimate, though. Since I’ve been crunching numbers recently to predict which Q15 members might become Church President, I have all these data on their ages and life expectancies lying around, and given that age is a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to match up the age data with an Alzheimer’s prevalence table to see what proportion of the quorum might suffer from it in the past, present, and future.

The major data sources I used are (1) for birth, calling, and death dates for historical Q15 member ages, (2) the simulations I did for my post last month on predicting who will become Church President, for future Q15 member ages, and (3) this paper from the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia for the Alzheimer’s and dementia prevalence rates. If you’re interested, I’ve described the process I followed in more detail at the end of this post.

Here’s a graph showing the average age of the Q15 and the age of the Church President from 1835 to 2014 (taken at the end of each year), and predicted ages for the Q15 and for the Church President for the next 15 years. I calculated predicted ages in two ways, one using the SOA mortality table that I used for my post last month about predicting which Q15 members would become Church President (labeled “not adjusted” in the graph, with darker colored lines), and the other (labeled “adjusted,” with lighter colored lines) with the mortality rates in the SOA table multiplied by 0.89 because I found in analyses for another post that this provided better fit to actual historical mortality rates of Q15 members.

president and q15 age

I’ve blogged about the age of the Church President and the Q15 before, so if you read ZD a lot, you may have already seen a graph that looks like the white part of this graph. The gray part of the graph is new, though. It shows predicted ages for the Church President and the average for the entire Q15. These are averages across 1000 simulations. The Church President’s age is predicted to continue to increase for a few more years because President Monson is likely to live for a few more years, but then it declines because when he dies, he is likely to be replaced by a younger man. The predictions for the entire Q15 go downward pretty quickly because several current members are old enough that their expected life spans are quite short, and when they die, it seems very likely that they will be replaced by much younger men. (In the simulation, when a Q15 member died, I replaced him with a new member who was between 52 and 67 years old. See more detail at the end of the post.)

Here’s a graph showing estimated Alzheimer’s prevalence. Like for the age graph, I’ve shown the Church President’s and the Q15 lines separately, and there are two predicted lines for each, one using the unadjusted SOA table, and the other using the 0.89 adjustment. Note that the values for the Church President are probabilities–the expected probability that he has Alzheimer’s–and the values for the Q15 are rates–the expected percentage of the quorum that has Alzheimer’s.

president and q15 alzheimer's v2In the early history of the Church, the Q15 generally had very young men, so probabilities and rates are all zero. It wasn’t until near the end of the nineteenth century that any members got old enough for Alzheimer’s to become an issue. (Of course I’m assuming that Alzheimer’s prevalence was the same in the past as they are today, and I really have no way of checking this.) The President line has a big spike whenever the Church President reaches 80, and an even bigger one when he enters his 90s (e.g., David O. McKay in the 1960s). It’s not surprising that the Church President’s probability is almost always higher than the rate for the entire Q15, as the President is almost always one of the older men in the quorum. The prediction lines show the President’s probability increasing dramatically in the next few years, as President Monson is near 90, when rates go up even more steeply.

For the Q15 line, the expected rate has gone up dramatically in the past few years as by far the majority (9 of 15) are now 80 or older. The current estimate is about 12%, which means about 2 current members of the Q15 have Alzheimer’s (12% x 15 = 1.8). The prediction lines show a sharp dropoff, though, that corresponds with the age prediction lines. This is because when the oldest current Q15 members die, the newly-called members who replace them are likely to come from an age range in which Alzheimer’s is rare.

Finally, here’s a graph showing estimated dementia prevalence. It’s laid out the same way as the Alzheimer’s graph is.

president and q15 dementia v2The shapes of the lines look very similar to the lines in the Alzheimer’s graph, but the scale has shifted. Here the spikes for the Church President aren’t around 35%, they’re approaching 50%. The rate for the whole quorum has been above 10% more often than not in the past twenty years, and it’s currently above 15%.

There are a lot of things that could be wrong with the analyses I’ve done. The predicted lifespans from my simulation could be wrong. The ages at which I’ve assumed new Q15 members will be called could be wrong. The Alzheimer’s and dementia rates I used might not be the best estimates. But even if all the predicted parts are off and the real Alzheimer’s and dementia rates are (to be optimistic) lower, I think the bottom line would be the same. Because of the ages they’re living to, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are at substantial risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. As medical science and technology get better, unless the very next thing to be solved is Alzheimer’s, they’ll be at even greater risk. For me, this just underscores the need to give Q15 members emeritus status at some point, and not ask them anymore to serve for life.


Here’s some more detail on where the numbers came from. Let’s start with the age data. The historical data I used are ages of all Q15 members at the end of each calendar year from 1835 through 2014. I got these from Q15 member birth, calling, and death dates at The future age data come from the simulation I did for my post where I was using mortality tables to predict who in the Q15 would become Church President. For that post, I looked at 1000 simulations of how long each current Q15 member will live, and for each simulation, checked which members would get to become President because they had outlived all quorum members senior to them. For this post, instead of just looking at who would get to become President, I also used the yearly future ages for each of the simulations.

Of course it’s easy to predict a quorum member’s age at any particular time in the future assuming he’s still living. When the simulation said a quorum member would die at a particular age, though, I had to replace his age with the age of a replacement member. To choose ages for these replacement members, I looked back at the age at calling for Q15 members called in the last 25 years. They are distributed pretty evenly between 52 (Bednar) and 67 (Cook). Therefore, I assigned each replacement member to have 1/16 probability of being at each age from 52 to 67 in his first year. The replacement member’s age then progressed from year to year in the simulation. After one year, for example, a replacement member had a nearly 1/16 probability of being each age from 53 to 68. (The reason the probabilities weren’t exactly 1/16 is that the mortality rate at each age was taken into account, so there was a small probability that the replacement member would die and be replaced by another replacement member, who again would be started out with a 1/16 probability of being each age from 52 to 67.)

I think the way I handled adding replacement members to the Q15 is reasonable, but it could certainly be done other ways. It was for this reason that I only ran the simulations 15 years into the future for this analysis, rather than the 30 years that I did in the post on predicting who will become Church President. In that post, the analysis showed that there was a 50% probability that all current Q15 members would have died in 30 more years. I wanted this analysis to be mostly driven by the current Q15 members, and not much affected by simulated replacement members, so I chose to have it go only half as far into the future.

I took the Alzheimer’s and dementia prevalence rates from this 2011 paper from the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I used this paper because a couple of the resources I found when searching online recommended the Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS), on which this paper is based, as a good source because it uses a nationally (US) representative sample of older adults. The Alzheimer’s and dementia rates appear in Table 3 of the paper. They are broken down by age range and sex. I used the rates for men, and applied them to Q15 members whose ages matched the ranges in the table. Because the table begins at age 71, I assigned Q15 members who were 70 and younger at a particular time a 0% probability of having Alzheimer’s or dementia at that time. I found the estimated rate for the entire Q15 by taking the average of their individual estimated rates. For example, the Q15 right now has three members aged up to 70 (0% probability of Alzheimer’s), three members aged 71-79 (2.30%), six members aged 80-89 (12.33%), and three members aged 90+ (33.89%). The average of the 15 rates (or the weighted average of the four rates, with the number of members being the weight) is 12.17%, so this is the estimated Alzheimer’s prevalence rate for the current Q15.

I made one adjustment to both the Alzheimer’s and dementia prevalence rates in the table when making the lines for the Church President only. The age categories are wide and have dramatically different rates, so the jumps between them are dramatic. For example, when turning 80, a Church President moves suddenly from having a 2.30% rate (or probability of having Alzheimer’s) to a 12.33% probability. To make these changes over time look more realistic for the graphs, I converted the single estimate for each age category into a linear increase through the decade the age category covered. I set the single estimate to be at the midpoint of the decade, and made the endpoints of the linear increase meet each other at the boundaries between the age ranges. Again, I only did this for Church President lines. I didn’t need to do it for Q15 rate lines because with 15 people’s data going into the rate calculations, there’s much less problem with the sudden jumps at the boundaries between age categories.



  1. No arguments with the analysis itself, but I’m uncomfortable with the titles of the post and the last two figures. The title of the post implies that you are measuring the actual incidence of Alzheimers, when you are instead measuring the expected incidence. Similarly, use of the term “estimated” with regard to prevalence rates is too strong. To me, it implies that if all of the assumptions you list actually hold, you would know the prevalence rate with certainty. In fact, even if every assumption you made is completely correct, the actual prevalence rate could be very different (n either direction) from what you present just by the nature of statistical uncertanity. I would replace “estimated” with “expected” in those figure titles. (That the expected rates are estimates goes without saying.)

  2. MH, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Last Lemming, thanks, that’s a good point. “Expected” definitely captures better what I’ve done than “estimated.” I’ve updated the graphs and the wording in the post.

  3. Fascinating post, Ziff. I had a really interesting comment to make but I can’t seem to remember what it was.

  4. The issue of Alzheimer’s and related incapacity of the ‘old’ men has precedent as to how to be dealt with. In both the tenure of Presidents McKay and Kimball, additional counselors were called into the First Presidency. From 1982 on, Gordon B. Hinckley in effect ran the Church on SWK’s behalf, only bringing to his attention what absolutely couldn’t be delegated. Yet I see no evidence that the Church was hampered in any way.

    The Church, being about 300% larger than when SWK passed on, by calling Area Authorities in the ‘lesser’ Quorums of Seventy to deal with largely regional issues, has managed to pass down many matters that would have been handled through Salt Lake when I joined the Church (1979). Along with having its financial affairs in the hands of professionals instead of GAs, the bureaucracy manages to be quite efficient for an organization its size.

    I recall a humorous quip of Ronald Reagan in the 1984 Presidential campaign. There were concerns that the “Gipper”, being 73 at the time, might not remain up to the job health-wise or mentally as he aged. Reagan addressed that issue by stating he would NOT make ‘age’ an issue, that he would not make an issue of his Democrat opponent’s ‘youth’ and ‘inexperience’ (Mondale was 56 at the time, and happily is still going strong at 87…).

  5. I agree with you Ziff that Apostles and Prophets need to be able to retire. Douglas puts the answer that I get when I try to discuss this concern with other members.

    I believe that this is one of the biggest problems for the church. 1. we have old men who are teaching as Gospel their culture which is 60 years out of date. 2. We have not had a prophet who claimed to receive a revelation since 1978.
    Because of these mean we are stuck with a church teaching out-dated culture instead of the Gosp-el of Christ. Opposition to gay marriage, religious freedom, and the place of women.

    Uchtdorf has great appeal because he is the exception. He has appeal because he teaches the Gospel not conservative culture.

    The discussion needs to be abroad so that when Pres Monson goes his successor is not automatically the head of the 12, but the best person to be Prophet. This might require some humility on the part of some of the older of the 15.

    To argue that the church is not hampered by having Prophets who are incapable, ie “alls well in zion” is difficult to answer, because we don’t know what might have been achieve by a more dynamic leader who would be open minded enough and willing to ask God for his solutions. Lets just say that 50 years ago there was talk of the Gospel/church rolling forth to fill the whole earth. Now we wonder if there is any growth at all.

    We do need the lord to nominate the next Prophet, not a tradition that needs challenging.

  6. Geoff- Aus #6 – where on earth do you get the idea that “We have not had a prophet who claimed to receive a revelation since 1978”. I think what you may mean is that there has been no new canonized scripture since 1978.

    As for your idea of “the Lord” choosing the next Prophet – how would that happen, if, as you claim, no prophet has received a revelation since 1978?

  7. Murray, I am not aware of a Prophet since then saying he had a revelation. Can you cite one or more?

    What I am trying to say there is that if tradition is followed the President of the 12 automatically is the choice. If the brethren are open to, the best man for the job, they will ask that question, and I believe they would receive a different answer, which would be the Lords choice. This is what would obviously be preferable. Wouldn’t it?

  8. Geoff – the nature of the Apostleship is much like the refrain from the Eagles ‘Hotel California’ – “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…”. Ergo, these callings are understood to be uniquely a life ‘sentence’.

    Your idea that these ‘old fogies’ are out of touch, e.g., their ‘kultur’ is 60 ‘jahren’ out of date, is both disrespectful and insulting. These men have raised families and largely seen their children raise theirs (in some cases ,they’ve got great and/or great-great grandchildren), and purely through their family experience would be quite ‘in touch’ with the youth, especially their OWN. Plus, they have men (and in the auxiliary organizations, women) of all ages to draw on for experience and perspective, as well the various men and women running over 3,000 stakes and almost 30,000 wards and branches throughout the world.

    A dynamic young fellow like Joseph Smith was certainly needed in the day to perform that particular work…an upstart young man for an upstart Church. Even Brigham Young was relatively ‘young’, impetuous, and sometimes gruff, but ‘mellowed’ as he got older and fatter. Nowadays, we don’t need the Church to be a personality cult, it has some 15 million and counting personalities to deal with as it is. We need it focused on who IS its head…the Savior Jesus Christ, who doesn’t need any of our counsel on how to direct His Church.

  9. It’s great that you believe that, Douglas, but I think there’s ample evidence that the Q15 are largely out of touch with the world as it is now.

  10. Ziff, The Q15 are not “out of touch” with the world. They do not march in lockstep with the ever changing fashions of the world

  11. Ziff on 1 June 2015 at 5:20 am said:
    It’s great that you believe that, Douglas, but I think there’s ample evidence that the Q15 are largely out of touch with the world as it is now.

    I think you’re conflating being out of touch with refusal to adopt emerging popular views. Big distinction there.

  12. Right, Cameron N. It’s quite clear that they’re both out of touch and unwilling to change. But really, this is all a tangent to the point of the post, which was how many of them are at risk for Alzheimer’s.

  13. If there is a candidate in the presidential run offs who is over 90 and may have dementia, do you think he would have an even chance with those closer to there prime? Assuming the answer is no. Why would the Lord be less discerning?

    The question is whether the leadership of the Lords church should be capable of leading and open minded enough, and physically capable of receiving revelation for the church. Why would he not have the most capable people doing the job?

    My father is 90 and stopped leading at least 10 years ago. He now helped, his contributing years are past. He is respected for what he achieved, and not expected to do what he is no longer capable of. The same should apply to the 15 who are over 80.

    At present with the succession system dictated by tradition he is not involved in the choice. He should be, and the way for this to happen is for the tradition to be questioned, and dropped, and the Lord allowed to choose the best man (for now) for the job. In my opinion.

  14. It looks like a good number of you are out of touch with the principle that the credibility of any religion’s claim to be the go-to source for inalterable eternal truth is measured by the vigor with which it dismisses and resists all pressure to “change with the times”.If there is a truth behind it,that truth is what those of passing times must conform themselves to,and never the opposite.

  15. Though the Church has TRADITIONALLY selected the most senior Apostle once the President passes on (in which case, the FP is dissolved and the “Twelve” become the “Fourteen” if the Qof12 is fully constituted at that time), there is, AFAIK, no revelation that binds the Church to always do so. Right now Pres. Packer would succeed Monson; and he’s even older and quite infirm. I would see nothing wrong with Packer declining the Presidency on grounds of ill health in favor of a less senior member of the “Twelve” in better health.

    Judging by some of the latest cultural issues (damming the entire Duggar clan over the molestation the eldest son did while a teen, Bruce (or is it Catheryn?) Jenner, etc.), I’d be kinda glad that the senior leadership of the Church pays no attention, save to doing the Lord’s work.

    Consider also what each of these men has achieved in their respective fields prior to full-time Church service. One in particular, Elder Richard G Scott, worked on the Nautilus project in the 1950’s and went on to a partnership in a consulting firm, both efforts that led to what I worked in in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Now, I might know more far more about an Eighth-Generation GE pressurized water reactor than Elder Scott, but it was his work that led to it. So I’d relish an opportunity to ‘talk shop’ with the man if he had the time and inclination, even if age had diminished his recollection.

  16. Bruce (or is it Catheryn?) Jenner

    It’s Caitlyn. You could have found that out with a two second Google search. If you’re going to praise the Q15 for continuing to marginalize transgendered people or pretend they don’t exist, I’m not going to be on board. Please take your nastiness somewhere else.

  17. Ziff, I woke up in the night thinking about this post and the last paragraph where you say the probability jumps from 2.3% to 12.3% when he turns 80.

    Not being able in your field, are you taking the figures to progress from very low at 70 to 11% at 79 then 12 at 80 or have you taken all 70s at 2 and all 80 at 12?

    Because Ballard and Scott are 86 and Monson 87 I would think they would be up in the 25%+ range.

    So very possibly one of the over 90 one of the over 85 and one more for good luck of the present group.

    Again I find the most disturbing figure the one you diid for me that shows we could very well have leaders who are over 90 when called for the forseeable future, if the traditional selection system remains.

    To my thinking the best solution to this would be to have the next President chosen on merit by the Lord, as opposed to tradition. This would require this possibility being discused, so it is considdered by the 14 rather than automatically apointing the president of the quorum. It might also require some humbility on the part of some with ambition.

  18. Sorry to not be clear, Geoff. The prevalence tables I used lump people together by decade of age. 71-79 is one category and 80-89 is another. I didn’t read the entire article, but I think they’re doing this because they just didn’t have a large enough sample size to estimate the rate at age 71, at age 72, etc. So reading the table directly, a man’s probability (I used data for men only; the women’s rates are higher) does jump from 2.30% to 12.33% when he turns 80. Of course that’s not terribly realistic. That’s why I modified the probabilities to have them increasing through each decade when I made the lines for the Church President (described in the last paragraph of the post). With my modified versions, going from 79 to 80 increases a man’s expected rate from 4.14% to 4.60%. The 2.30% rate is hit at age 75 and the 12.33% rate is hit at age 86. I hope that makes more sense.

  19. #8 Geoff – Aus “Murray, I am not aware of a Prophet since then saying he had a revelation. Can you cite one or more?”
    1. Too numerous to mention but … 30 odd Temples built in the last 15 years or so. Did you never hear Pres Hinckley talk about his revelation in coming up with the design for the new smaller Temples.
    2. Thousands of missionaries called every year. Do you not remember the conference talk where one of the 15 described the process for determining where to send them? Sounded revelatory to me.

    If every revelation received was canonized and became new scripture would would spend every general conference just sustaining new scripture. We would have printed scriptures that we could scarcely carry,

    Now I am not saying that every decision ever made is based on clear revelation, but I think a lot of major decisions are.

    “What I am trying to say there is that if tradition is followed the President of the 12 automatically is the choice. If the brethren are open to, the best man for the job, they will ask that question, and I believe they would receive a different answer, which would be the Lords choice. This is what would obviously be preferable. Wouldn’t it?”

    No, that’s not “obviously preferable”. The brethren are called to potentially be the President when they are called to the council of the 12. The Lord then sorts out who will be the next President by calling some “home” before others. Personally I would have loved to see LTP as the next President and I am sure some are in fear and trembling about the possibility of BKP being the next. Could we have and two men more different than those? My thought is that either one of them is (or was) capable and would do what the Lord wanted them to do if given that opportunity.

  20. It is not tradition that the senior member of the Q12 becomes the next Prophet, it is actually written into the bylaws of the Cooperation of the First Presidency. They are public knowledge in the incorporation papers, and they state that the senior member of the 12 becomes the President after the death of the current president . No drama, no fasting and prayers, just a legal procedure.


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