Social Security Disability Benefits and Memory Loss

Social Security will consider memory loss as a limitation in the type of work you can do.

A good number of Social Security disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants claim memory loss as either a primary or secondary condition for which they seek disability benefits. In some individuals, memory loss may be the result of a result of a physical impairment, such as a stroke or other brain injury, an ongoing mental condition, such as severe depression, or from an ongoing chronic condition or syndrome, such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue. Regardless of the cause of onset, memory loss is judged by disability examiners based on its severity; that is, the degree to which it limits your ability to work.

When Memory Loss Qualifies for Disability Benefits

In order to collect disability benefits on the basis of memory loss, you must be able to demonstrate, through medical records, that you have a physical or mental condition that causes memory loss, and that this condition is severe enough not only to prevent you from using skills needed to perform your prior job, but is also severe enough to prevent you from adjusting to a less mentally demanding job or learning new skills that could help you obtain gainful employment in a new position to which you may be suited.

For instance, if you cannot remember even very short and simple instructions and remember locations and work-like procedures, Social Security is likely to agree there is no job you can learn to do.

If you have had a physical exam or tests that show there has been a detectable organic change that's causing your memory loss, Social Security will be interested whether your memory impairment causes you severe difficulties with:


  • focusing, following directions, or remembering things
  • activities of daily living (such as personal hygiene, shopping, and taking medications)
  • maintaining concentration and keeping up, and
  • social functioning.


For more information on how Social Security assesses limitations caused by cognitive deficits, see our article on how Social Security decides if you can work with a mental deficit.

Important Medical Records

It can't be stressed enough how important it is to supply Social Security with a complete medical and work history. Without these records, a disability claims examiner will be unable to make a decision in your case. It would also be extremely helpful if your medical records show that your physician has referred you for some sort of mental function testing that demonstrates you are unable to perform simple, repetitive tasks involving short-term and long-term memory. A signed statement from your treating physician detailing both specific symptoms of your condition and how they affect your memory would be helpful to your case as well. For more information, see our section on medical evidence for disability.

SSA Consultative Exam

The Social Security administration (SSA) may require that you attend a consultative exam (CE). A consultative exam is performed by a doctor who works for SSA, and is often used as a means of evaluating claims with symptoms that are not readily apparent, such as chronic fatigue or insomnia. In the case of memory loss, a CE will most likely include a Weschler Memory Scale (WMS) exam, which tests a wide range of memory functions, including the ability to recall past events, current events, number sequences, photographs, pictures, word associations, and so on. Having memory loss is not a valid excuse for missing a CE, so ask a friend or relative to write down the date and plan to attend the CE with you if at all possible. Failure to attend a consultative exam is grounds for immediate dismissal of your disability claim. For more information, see our section on consultative exams.

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