Facts about Alzheimer's and Filing for Disability
These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.
Facts about the condition
1) Alzheimer's disease (AD) is untreatable, gradually worsens over time, and is fatal. It is the most common type of dementia, causing damage and death to brain cells, and affects over 34 million people worldwide.
2) Although the risk of Alzheimer's disease increased with age and its symptoms are usually thought to be age-related, the disease itself is not due to aging. The disease is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including lifestyle, genetics, and environmental factors.
3) The first and most common symptom of Alzheimer's disease is usually memory loss, but other symptoms include irritability, confusion, mood swings, aggression, and language problems. As the disease worsens a major symptom is body function loss, which is eventually the cause of death.
4) Since there are other causes for memory loss and dementia, doctors usually use lab tests, neuropsychological testing, and brain scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) to determine whether a patient is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
5) Although the cause of Alzheimer's is still puzzling to health professionals, the result of Alzheimer's is very understood ' damage and death to brain cells (neurons). So far, they have determined that there are two different types of brain cell (neuron) damage: plaques and tangles.
6) As with most illnesses and diseases, eating a healthy diet full of vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains and fish, as well as exercising, has been shown to help reduce risk and slow deterioration due to Alzheimer's disease. Keeping one's mind sharp through ongoing education and mental exercises is another way to reduce risk and manage the disease. Some doctors recommend supplementation, such as vitamin E, gingko, and huperzine A.
7) Since there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, doctors usually focus on trying to treat individual symptoms, such as depression and sleeplessness. Even though there is no cure or way to stop the progress of the disease, there are three acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Razadyne, and the Exelon Patch) and one NMDA receptor antagonist (memantine) that can help treat the cognitive issues related to the disease.
Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition
Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.
This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.
In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.
Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).
Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?
There are several reasons but here are just two:
1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.
Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.
2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.
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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