Getting Disability Benefits for Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease

Social Security has specific criteria for when Alzheimer's qualifies for disability, but an early-onset diagnosis gets fast-tracked.

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Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative neurological condition that results in progressive cognitive decline. The first symptom of Alzheimer’s is short-term memory loss, which becomes more pronounced as the disease worsens. Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease affects all aspects of an individual's life, such as speech, problem solving, recognition abilities, and behavior. In the late stage of Alzheimer’s, an individual's symptoms might include the inability to recognize family members, lack of cognitive abilities, incontinence, an inability to even feed oneself, and even an inability to walk. Treatment options include medications and other therapies to improve quality of life and possibly slow the progression of the disease.

Disability for Alzheimer's Disease

Can one win Social Security disability or SSI disability benefits on the basis of Alzheimer’s? Yes, depending on the stage of the disease. The disability listing that Social Security uses to evaluate the severity of Alzheimer's disease (and other forms of dementia) is the listing for Organic Mental Disorders. To meet the requirements of this disability listing, the applicant must prove that he or she has one of the following:

  • memory problems, the inability to remember either new information or past events

  • disorientation as to place and time, and/or
  • disturbances in mood or temperament or changes in personality.

These problems must result in a severe problems with at least two of the following:

  • tasks of daily living (for example, shopping, cooking, taking the bus, and personal hygiene)
  • getting along with others
  • focusing on and completing tasks, or
  • recurring episodes of decompensation (periods of time with increased memory loss, disorientation, or personality issues).

Expedited Processing for Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease

Those who have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease (when symptoms appear before age 65) are usually the only individuals in need of disability benefits. That's because those over 65 are usually eligible for either Social Security retirement benefits or SSI benefits, without needing to be found disabled. (However, applicants between 62 and 70 can choose to apply for Social Security disability benefits rather than taking Social Security retirement. Read our article about applying for disability when you're over 65 for more information.)

Fortunately, Social Security recently added early-onset Alzheimer's disease to the list of Compassionate Allowance conditions, meaning that the agency will fast-track the processing of the disability application so that applicants with Alzheimer's don't needlessly have to go through the hassle of a denial and appeal as their symptoms get worse. If you are helping someone apply for Social Security disability benefits, be sure to note on the application, or tell the Social Security field rep, that the applicant qualifies for Compassionate Allowance treatment and that the exact diagnosis is "early-onset Alzheimer's disease."

Applying for Disability for Alzheimer's

To help someone apply for disability, you can call 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment to submit an application for SSI or SSDI through your local SSA office. If you’re helping someone to apply for SSDI only, you can do so online at ssa.gov. In your application, include how the applicant's dementia is affecting his or her ability to take care of daily needs such as hygiene, food preparation, grocery shopping, and communication. 

If the applicant has physical problems as well, or other mental problems such as depression, include these on the application. Even if a mental impairment isn't yet severe enough to qualify on its own, sometimes together two or three impairments can qualify for disability. (See our article on multiple disabilities for more information.)

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