Is Age a Factor in Social Security Disability Claims?

Your age can play a significant role in determining whether your claim for Social Security disability benefits is approved.

Updated by , Attorney | Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney
How old are you?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does consider how old you are when determining if you're disabled. The agency doesn't have a minimum age requirement, but generally speaking, qualifying for disability becomes easier the older you are.

What Age Do You Have to Be to Get Social Security?

You can get Social Security at any age, but the type of disability benefit you receive can change.

For example, adults between the ages of 18 and 67 can collect Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if they meet the financial and medical criteria for the program. Full retirement age for people born after 1960 is 67, so any SSDI benefits you receive after age 66 will become retirement benefits.

Children under the ages of 18 can collect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they meet the financial and medical criteria for the program. Minors receiving SSI are re-evaluated when they turn 18 to see if they're still disabled by the adult standards. If they are, they can continue to receive SSI and, in some cases, might qualify for SSDI as disabled adult children.

There's really no limit on age for SSI eligibility, but any SSI benefits you receive after age 65 can be based on age rather than disability.

How Does Your Social Security Age Bracket Affect Your Disability Claim?

Depending on how old you are, the SSA will categorize your application based on the following age brackets:

  • child applicant (under age 18)
  • younger individual (ages 18 to 49)
  • closely approaching advanced age (ages 50-54)
  • advanced age (ages 55-60), and
  • closely approaching retirement age (ages 60-64)

For disability applicants over the age of 50, getting approved for disability benefits can be easier thanks to a special set of rules called the "medical-vocational grid." The "grid rules" apply more favorably to applicants in the three age brackets that start at age 50. Using the grid rules, certain applicants can be found disabled even if they have a residual functional capacity (RFC) that doesn't rule out all jobs.

How Does Your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) Relate to Your Age?

Your RFC is a set of limitations describing the maximum you're capable of doing, physically and mentally, in a work setting. For people with physical impairments, their RFC will likely contain restrictions on how much they can lift, carry, stand, and walk. Social Security refers to these basic restrictions as someone's exertional level.

The SSA recognizes five different exertional levels that correspond to physical job duties:

  • Sedentary work is defined as the ability to lift up to 10 pounds maximum, and be on your feet for 2 hours out of an 8-hour work day.
  • Light work is defined as the ability to lift up to 20 pounds maximum, and be on your feet for 6 hours out of an 8-hour work day.
  • Medium work is defined as the ability to lift up to 50 pounds maximum, and be on your feet for 6 hours out of an 8-hour work day.
  • Heavy work is defined as the ability to lift up to 100 pounds maximum, and be on your feet for 6 hours out of an 8-hour work day.
  • Very heavy work is defined as the ability to lift more than 100 pounds, and be on your feet for 6 hours out of an 8-hour work day.

If you have mental impairments, your RFC will contain restrictions on the skill level of the work you can do. The SSA divides jobs into three different skill levels:

  • Skilled work involves following complex instructions, working closely with others, and using abstract thinking.
  • Semi-skilled work involves following detailed (but not complex) instructions, paying attention to detail, and protecting against risks.
  • Unskilled work involves following 1-3 step instructions, using little judgment, and doing simple, repetitive tasks.

Your RFC is a very important part of how the SSA applies the grid rules. The closer you get to full retirement age, the less restrictive your RFC needs to be for the agency to find you disabled.

Does Being Older Help You Get Disability?

For adults under the age of 50, if your application doesn't have the right medical evidence for the SSA to determine that you're "medically disabled," you need to show that you can't do even the easiest, least physically demanding jobs. The agency won't look at other factors like your education or whether you learned any skills from your past work.

But if you're over 50, Social Security will refer to the grid rules to see if you could reasonably be expected to learn how to do a different job before you hit full retirement age. Even if you could physically perform a sit-down job as an older person, but you've never done it before (and can't learn), the SSA can apply the grid rules to find you disabled—while a younger individual would be denied benefits.

How Are the Grid Rules Applied for Different Age Categories?

The grid lays out the different age groups against the different RFC levels (sedentary, light, and so on) to show when Social Security has to find someone disabled. You may want to review our articles on the grid rules for your age group:

For more information, see our article on how the medical-vocational grid rules are used to determine disability.

Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) After 50

Social Security periodically re-evaluates the medical condition of disability recipients to determine if they've recovered enough to return to work. These evaluations are called continuing disability reviews, or CDRs.

How frequently your case is reviewed depends on how likely the SSA thinks that you'll recover enough to work. Using the same logic behind the grid rules—the closer you are to retirement age, the less likely you are to adjust to a new job—CDRs decrease in frequency, and eventually stop entirely, after the age of 50.

The exact age at which you no longer have to pass a CDR depends on whether you're expected to reach maximum medical improvement, but it's unlikely you'll have to undergo a CDR after you reach the "advanced age" bracket.

Updated September 2, 2022

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