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