Does Parkinson's Disease Qualify for Disability Benefits?
If your PD is severe enough to significantly limit your ability to perform work-related activities, you can get disability.
Parkinson’s disease, also known as Parkinsonian Syndrome, or PD, is a motor system disorder, meaning that it primarily affects a person’s movement. Although tremors are the most well-known symptom of PD, the disease can also produce symptoms such as stiffness, impaired coordination, speech changes, and in later stages, dementia. PD is a degenerative disease, so it may start with minor symptoms but will progressively get worse. Although there is no cure for PD, there are several medications which can help to control symptoms, and in some cases surgery may be recommended.
Qualifying for Benefits by Meeting Medical Listing 11.06
If you are an adult who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. If you meet the specific criteria provided in the Social Security Administration’s medical listing 11.06, Parkinsonian syndrome, you will be granted benefits. In order to qualify for benefits under listing 11.06, you will need to show that you experience:
- significant rigidity, bradykinesia (slowness of movement) or tremor in two extremities (such as both legs, or an arm and a leg), that result in
- prolonged movement difficulties (including both movement of your limbs and smaller hand movements) or an abnormal rate of walking.
Qualifying for Benefits Based on a Reduced RFC
If your PD symptoms don’t meet the guidelines in the above listing, you could still potentially qualify for benefits under what are referred to as “medical-vocational” guidelines (also called "med-voc" rules). In order to receive benefits under the med-voc rules, you will have to show that your condition is severe enough to significantly limit your ability to perform basic work-related activities.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your medical records, your reports of your symptoms, the opinion of your doctor and any consultative examiner (a doctor hired by SSA to evaluate you,) and any other evidence in your claim file. You will then be assigned a residual functional capacity (RFC), which is the heaviest classification of work that the SSA feels you are capable of performing (such as sedentary, light, or heavy work.) The SSA will then consider your age, level of education, and prior work experience to determine if there are any jobs that you would be able to do on a consistent basis.
If you have other physical or mental conditions that impact your ability work, the SSA will also consider those when assigning you an RFC and making this determination. In general, if you are over 50, you have a greater chance of being approved for benefits. Having less education and having a history of unskilled work can also increase the odds that your application will be approved. For more information, see our article on how you can get disability benefits with an RFC.
Medical Evidence Required When Proving Disability Due to PD
If you’re applying for disability benefits due to Parkinson’s disease, it’s essential that the SSA has access to recent medical records documenting your condition. Although they will take your testimony regarding your symptoms into consideration, it’s important that they have objective evidence that shows the severity of your condition. Your medical records should include:
- a specific diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease
- documentation by your doctor of the nature and frequency of your symptoms, and
- the results of neuroimaging tests confirming your PD diagnosis.
In addition to medical records, it’s important that you provide examples of exactly how your symptoms affect your daily activities, such as if you have trouble writing or eating due to tremors or stiffness. Be sure to provide any other relevant information, like negative side effects from medications that you take, on/off patterns, and any depression or anxiety that you experience due to your PD.
Applying for Disability Benefits for Parkinson’s Disease
To apply for benefits, call the SSA at (800) 772-1213. The SSA will make an appointment for you to apply over the phone or at a local SSA office. You can also apply online at www.ssa.gov if you are applying for SSDI only (not SSI). Once your application is complete, your file will be reviewed by an SSA claims adjudicator as well as by a medical expert hired by the SSA. They will request records from your doctors and may contact you for an interview, send you questionnaires to complete, or ask you to attend an examination by a doctor that they hire. Once the evidence in your file is complete, a decision will be issued. On average this takes four to five months, but it could take much longer.