You might not think that someone with Alzheimer’s can qualify for disability benefits since we mostly hear about cases that aren’t diagnosed until someone is well past retirement age. But early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur when someone is still quite young. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, many people with early onset are in their 40s and 50s.
Individuals and family members who are dealing with early-onset dementia often face major issues that are not associated with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis at a later age, such as a loss of job due to declining cognitive abilities. They have families, careers or are even caregivers themselves when Alzheimer’s disease strikes. Disability benefits often become the main source of income for someone with early onset, as they may not be able to continue working as the disease progresses. The money from disability benefits can help pay for housing costs and other bills, like in-home care.
Qualifying for Disability Benefits with Early Onset Alzheimer’s
The Social Security Administration maintains a listing of all the conditions that qualify someone to receive disability benefits called the Blue Book. Every listing in the book also has a very strict set of requirements that must be met before you can have your benefits claim approved. In order to meet the requirements for Alzheimer’s disease, the individual diagnosed with the condition must be able to document a significant decline in at least one of these areas:
- Learning and remembering (short-term memory in particular)
- Using language (inability to recall words, misuse of words)
- Paying attention to tasks or listening to others
- Planning and judgment
- Social cognition (ability to know proper social behavior in differing circumstances), or
- Physical coordination
You will also need to show that your decline has given you an extreme limitation in one or more of these areas, or a significant limitation in two or more of these areas:
- Understanding, remembering, or using information (ability to understand instructions, learn new things, apply new knowledge to tasks)
- Concentrating on tasks and completing tasks at a reasonable speed
- Adapting or managing oneself (making plans for oneself independently of others; being aware of normal hazards and taking appropriate precautions, having practical personal skills), and
- Interacting with others (with socially acceptable behavior).
You will need to provide medical documentation like MRIs or PET scans as well as other documentation proving that they meet these requirements. Alzheimer’s is also one of the conditions on the Compassionate Allowance list, which means that when you file a claim for disability benefits because of Alzheimer’s that claim will be fast tracked for processing. If the claim is approved, you could begin getting benefits in just a couple of weeks.
Medical Vocational Allowance
It’s very common for someone to have a medical condition and not yet meet the Blue Book requirements for that condition. When that happens, you can apply for a Medical Vocational Allowance exception that will allow you to be eligible for disability benefits even though you don’t meet the Blue Book criteria. To get a Medical Vocational Allowance, your doctor must fill out a detailed Residual Functional Capacity evaluation, and describe the symptoms and limitations in great detail to show the SSA that their patient cannot work because of their condition.
The SSA will look at your age, work history, skill set, and the results of the RFC evaluation to determine if you can do some other type of work. If they conclude that you are unable to work at all, then you will be qualified to be approved for disability benefits.
Filing A Disability Claim
If you are having trouble filing a Social Security disability claim you can have a loved one, friend, or caregiver do it for you. You can also make an appointment at your local SSA branch and someone there will help you file a claim for disability benefits.
- Helpful checklist from the Alzheimer’s Association to make sure you have the information and resources you need to apply for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Income benefits
- Senior Living Residences’ Guide to Mild Cognitive Impairment, or early signs of memory loss
- Information on the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book
- How to File for Disability with a Compassionate Allowance from the Social Security Administration
- Find your local SSA Branch
About the Author
Cendy Moliere is an Outreach Specialist at Disability Benefits Help, an independent organization dedicated to helping people of all ages receive the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. She currently lives in Boston, MA but helps those seeking assistance nationwide. If you have any questions on this article or would like a little more information on how to qualify for disability benefits, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.