How is memory loss considered by Social Security Disability?

How often does memory loss play into the processing of an SSD claim (Social Security Disability) or SSI disability claim (supplemental security income)? Actually, memory loss is a factor far more than many would realize.

As a disability examiner, I found it quite common to see memory loss listed as either a primary or secondary allegation (a condition that has been cited as the basis for an individual's disability). On some disability applications, memory loss would be indicated in relation to a mood disorder, such as depression (major depression, dysthymia, or, simply depression).

In other cases, memory loss could be connected to an organic condition of the brain, such as a head injury, alzheimer's disease, the residual effects of a stroke, or a head injury that has been classified as a traumatic brain injury. And in yet other cases, memory loss, particularly short term memory loss, would be listed in connection with a syndromatic condition such as chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.

How is memory loss considered by the Social Security Disability and SSI disability programs? In the same way that every condition is evaluated by SSA. It is not the condition itself or its diagnosis that is the primary concern, but, instead the effect the condition has on an individual's ability to work. Work, of course, for social security purposes, includes a claimant's relevant past work and types of other work for which they might be qualified, based on age, education, job skills, and their rated level of mental and/or physical limitation.

In other words, memory difficulties could easily form the basis for a disability approval, provided that an individual:

A) had difficulty accessing previously acquired skills and training,

B) did not possess sufficient strength of memory to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks, or

C) did not possess sufficient strength of memory to acquire new skills, or transfer previously acquired work skills to new work settings.

How does a claimant, or a claimant's disability attorney, prove that memory loss exists to the extent that the ability to work is sufficiently compromised? As with all cases, it comes down to the medical records, and, in many cases that are heard at the disability hearing level, the statement provided by a claimant's treating physician.

However, in cases involving memory loss, social security will often send claimants to a CE (consultative medical exam), otherwise known as a social security medical exam. And, often, these exams are in the form of a WMS, or weschler memory scale.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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