Getting Social Security Disability After Age 65 (Before Full Retirement Age)

Disabled folks over 65 can collect Social Security disability benefits rather than retirement.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School

Not all individuals who are age 65 or older can afford to retire, or want to stop working. But many become disabled and aren't able to continue working. People who are age 65 or 66 and don't want to start collecting Social Security retirement benefits may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits—if they can prove a disability keeps them from working.

Can You Collect Social Security Disability After Age 65?

You can apply for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits until your full retirement age, which is age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. Once you reach full retirement age, if you're receiving SSDI, Social Security will change your benefits over to retirement benefits. At ages 67 through 70, you can't collect SSDI, even if you want to hold off on collecting your retirement benefits.

(To read about why it can make sense to collect SSDI over 65 rather than filing for retirement benefits, see our article on collecting disability and retirement. Note that you can't collect Social Security retirement and disability at the same time.)

Social Security's Age 65 and Older Rules

Social Security has a few special rules for those who are 65 or older when applying for benefits. In general, these rules help older people get disability benefits. Some of the rules make it more likely that a senior will meet the requirements of one of Social Security's impairment listings. Others help when seniors don't meet a listing, but are no longer able to find any jobs they can do.

First, know that individuals over 65 can qualify for benefits in two ways.

  • Meeting or equaling a listing. Social Security's "Blue Book" lists impairments that will automatically be considered disabling for those who meet all of the requirements in the listing. You can "equal" a listing if you have an impairment that's very similar to a listing in the Blue Book. (See our section on meeting or equaling a listing.)
  • Medical-vocational allowances. If you don't meet or equal a listing, Social Security will look at your limitations, age, education level, and work history in deciding whether you should be able to do your old job or other work. If not, you can be approved through a "medical-vocational allowance."

Special Age-65 and Older Rules for Meeting or Equaling a Listing

Social Security uses the same procedures to determine whether those age 65 or older meet or equal a listing, but the agency requires some extra consideration for those seniors, as follows.

Examiners and judges must provide a thorough review. When you're 65 or older, Social Security rules require the claims examiner or administrative law judge (ALJ) to carefully review your medical records to identify any possible age-related impairments you may have due to the aging process, such as:

  • decreased hearing ability
  • poor eyesight
  • decreased physical strength, or
  • memory loss.

The examiner or judge must ask you to fill out a questionnaire to show the limitations you're having in your daily life. In addition, when speaking to you, Social Security requires the examiner or ALJ to be on the lookout for statements that may raise concerns about age-related impairments; for example:

  • "I don't read much anymore because I can't see too well," or
  • "My son said he visited me the other day, but I don't remember seeing him."

The examiner or ALJ also should be aware that statements from people who know the applicant may provide information about possible impairments.

Examiners and judges can't dismiss your impairments. Social Security prevents examiners and judges from dismissing age-related impairments such as arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, poor vision or hearing, certain cancers, or memory impairments as being normal for the person's age.

Length of age-related impairments. Social Security requires examiners and judges to carefully consider the facts before determining that an individual over the age of 65 will not be disabled for at least 12 months (and so is not eligible for disability benefits because of the durational rule). The reasoning is that age-related impairments are more likely to be long-term ailments instead of ailments that can be cured or controlled within a short time span.

Special Age-Related Rules for Medical-Vocational Allowances

For people age 65 and older who don't meet or equal a listing but can't work full time any longer, Social Security looks at how their impairments would affect their abilities in the workplace. Social Security uses two distinctions for those who are 65 or older.

First, you'll be automatically found disabled if you fall into a special "profile" that Social Security has created. Second, Social Security takes your older age into account when deciding if you can do work that is less demanding than your prior jobs.

Special profiles. There are two categories of workers who will automatically qualify for benefits; these categories are sometimes used for applicants 55 or older, but Social Security is required to see if they apply to any applicants who are age 65 or older. The two categories are for those who:

  • have no work experience. To qualify for this category you must be at least 55 years old, have an 11th-grade education or less (with no other significant job training), and not have worked in the last 15 years.
  • performed strenuous unskilled physical labor for many years. To qualify for this category, you must have worked in unskilled physical labor for at least 35 years and have an education of sixth grade or less, with no other significant training. For more information, see our article on the "worn-out worker rule."

Grid Rules. When determining whether there are any jobs you can do, Social Security will consider your age as a factor. Social Security places age ranges into different categories, the highest category being ages 60 and up. This is the age bracket Social Security will use for people age 65 and older.

Social Security pairs the age bracket with your "residual functional capacity," or RFC level. Your RFC level is the most that you can do despite your physical limitations. The different RFC levels are:

  • sedentary (sit-down) work
  • light work
  • medium work, or
  • heavy work.

Using the rules for the 60 and up age bracket, Social Security will find you disabled, and eligible for a medical-vocational allowance, in the following situations.

  • Sedentary or light work. If you have an RFC for sedentary or light work (work that requires only minimal lifting and consists mainly of sitting throughout the day), Social Security will find you disabled if you:
    • haven't finished high school or you don't have recent education or job training for skilled work, or
    • don't have any skills that can be transferred easily (and with very little training) from your previous work to another job.
  • Medium work. If you have an RFC for medium work (work that requires a greater level of lifting than sedentary or light work and requires standing or walking for most of the day), Social Security will find you disabled if you:
    • completed 11th grade or less and have no prior work experience, or
    • completed 6th grade or less and have no prior work experience or only unskilled work experience. (In some cases, you could also be disabled if your prior semi-skilled or skilled work experience left you with no skills that you can transfer to another job).

If you aren't disabled according to the above scenarios, there are other ways to prove you deserve disability benefits. For more information, see our article on using the medical-vocational grids for those 60 and older.

Long-Term Disability After Age 65

If you're lucky enough to have a long-term disability (LTD) policy with a private insurance company, some special rules might apply if you're 65 or older. Some long-term disability policies say that, if you become disabled at age 65 or older, you'll only get a limited number of months of benefits, such as 24 or 18 months, even if you're disabled for longer. If you become disabled at age 66 or 67, you may get even fewer months of benefits, such as 21 or 12. Check your policy's "Maximum Benefit Period" to see how long your policy will pay you benefits.

Updated June 9, 2022

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