Establishing a Social Security Disability Claim for early onset dementia

While it is not uncommon to see the signs of dementia (or what may ultimately be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s) in those who have reached retirement age already (and, thus, may be entitled to collect, or may be collecting early retirement benefits), we do receive calls from those who are suffering from signs of early onset dementia.  One such call from a very kind woman whose mother is suffering from the cognitive effects associated with this condition, and whose mother has been out of work for quite some time, prompted me to write this article in light of their wish to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

It is important to understand that in order to establish a claim for Social Security disability benefits it’s necessary that a disability claimant establish that they have been objectively diagnosed as suffering from a severe, medically determinable impairment that described treatment causes one to remain totally disabled from all forms of gainful employment.  The difficulty lies in establishing the diagnosis objectively of a severe medically determinable impairment.

When we were contacted for purposes of assisting with a potential Social Security disability claim, we were informed by our potential client’s daughter that her mother had to discontinue work over a year prior as a result of issues revolving around her memory and concentration.  Tammy (we’ll call her daughter) informed us that her mother was embarrassed by the problems she was having and instead of going out on disability benefits with her company (and determining what could be done), she had instead gone out on early retirement.   I then asked Tammy about what follow-up her mother did have at that time with her primary care physician, and she informed me that while she was seeing her primary care physician during that time, she would forget to mention her issues with her memory (and, unfortunately, her family was not accompanying her to the appointments).

Given the fact that there was no discussion or assessment of her condition at the time of her primary care physician’s visits up until this past spring, there would be no documentation in his chart that she was having these concerns.  Once she did convey to the doctor the problems she was having, while he did undertake some testing within the office, this was only a first step towards establishing a diagnosis.

Most general practitioners will not undertake the battery of testing, which would include as well a mental status examination.   Ordinarily, an evaluation with a neurologist may very well be suggested, in which case they might suggest brain imaging studies to determine whether there might be organic causes such as a stroke or a tumor, for example, causing cognitive dysfunction.  Similarly, a referral for an evaluation with a neuropsychologist might be recommended, who would undertake a very extensive battery of testing, referred to as a neuropsychological evaluation, with respect to ones cognitive function.  A neuropsychological evaluation can take up to 8 hours ordinarily, and would help detail the extent to which there are specific cognitive deficits with respect to different cognitive areas of function such as executive functioning, memory, attention and concentration, etc.

Once a determination can take place as to whether dementia is indeed an appropriate diagnosis (whether that be in the form of Alzheimer’s or a more general dementia),  medical providers can determine the appropriateness of certain medications that may be used to ease the symptoms of the condition.     Treatment for Dementia can include medications referred to as cholinesterase inhibitors (with name brand medications such as Aricept, Razadyne, Reminyl and Exelon) which can, in some circumstances, provide some benefit to those suffering from some form of dementia, such as “less anxiety, improved motivation, and better concentration and memory.  And some are able to continue with their regular activities.”

With the above testing and treatment underway, a disabled claimant will stand a much better chance of establishing a disability claim for dementia.  Follow-up treatment with continued cognitive testing, however, will be essential in order to show that the condition does remain severe and disabling such  the deficits would serve to preclude the individual claimant from being able to perform gainful employment.

If a loved one is feeling lost as a result of difficulties with cognition, give a call on their behalf to the Law Offices of  Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 so that together we can determine whether they appear to  be receiving appropriate treatment, and, given the problems they are still experiencing, whether an application for Social Security disability might be appropriate for them.