Huntington’s disease (HD), sometimes referred to as Huntington’s Chorea, is a genetic disorder that affects the brain. HD is one of many types of possible degenerative brain disorders, and like other such disorders, Huntington’s disease progressively leads to decreased coordination, cognitive decline, and psychiatric problems.
Most symptoms Huntington’s disease become noticeable in mid-life. More rarely, it can begin in childhood. HD is incurable, and death may occur several decades after onset. HD can cause numerous possible problems depending on the individual, and a combination of them could result in disability, depending on severity.
Physical symptoms include:
Cognitive symptoms include:
Mental symptoms include:
In order to be awarded Social Security disability benefits, you must show either that you meet the requirements for Huntington's disease as listed in Social Security's listing of impairments (the "blue book") or that you no longer have the physical or mental capacity for work.
Huntington's Chorea is specifically listed in Social Security's blue book under the listing for neurodegenerative disorders. To show that your HD meets the criteria for disability under this listing, you must have one of the following:
Note that marked means worse than moderate, but less than extreme.
For children with juvenile-onset HD, meeting the first set of symptoms will qualify them for SSI (if they meet the financial requirements).
If you don't yet meet the criteria of the degenerative disease listing, Social Security may award benefits to you if Social Security believes you are unable to return to work due to their disability. There are three areas of abilities that are focused on to assess if you are able to work, including physical, mental, and sensory abilities. Social Security uses the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to assess your abilities and limitations in these areas.
Physical abilities. Those with HD who have uncontrollable movements and jerking, loss of muscle control, and rigidness or twisting of the body would have a hard time performing tasks that included moving or lifting items, and decreases in balance would increase the difficulty of completing those tasks. Sleeping problems may cause increased fatigue that could limit physical abilities.
Mental abilities. For those with HD, decreases in cognitive ability can impair their ability to understand and be able to complete tasks given to them. If memory problems are beginning, the individual may not be able to remember tasks given to them or the steps necessary to complete tasks.
In addition, there are several behavioral problems associated with HD that could make functioning in the workplace hard. Irritability and aggression can make it difficult to respond properly to supervision. Anxiety and compulsive behavior can make it hard to adjust to changes and deal with stresses that occur in the work place. Difficulty being able to tell if others are upset by their expressions and having a reduced display of emotions can make social interactions with coworkers difficult.
Sensory abilities. Some patients with HD experience decreases in the ability to speak clearly, which could significantly hinder communication with supervisors and co-workers in the workplace.
After Social Security completes your RFC, the agency will decide if there is any work that someone with the abilities and limitations in your RFC could do. For more information, see our on how Social Security uses the RFC to make this decision.