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Is Alzheimer’s a Disability? How to Qualify for Disability Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
December 6, 2022  ·  4 min read

In 2021 alone, the Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded 30,064 workers benefits for mental disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. If your Alzheimer’s is severe enough to interfere with your ability to work, you may be eligible for monthly payments and free health care through the SSA. 

Still, disability benefits are complicated, and it can be challenging to understand how the SSA evaluates your eligibility. We’ll explain when Alzheimer’s qualifies for disability benefits and how to apply for and get approved for disability with Alzheimer's. 


Is Alzheimer’s a disability? 

Yes, Alzheimer’s is considered a disability. However, you’ll only qualify for benefits through the SSA if your Alzheimer’s is so advanced you can no longer work.

If your Alzheimer’s is substantially limiting, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally protects you from discrimination.

How the SSA defines Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s appears in Section 12 of the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, which lists official conditions and symptoms. To qualify for benefits, workers with Alzheimer’s must show a decline in their cognitive function. 

This can accompany symptoms like: 

  • Memory loss

  • Decreased executive function (planning and decision-making ability)

  • Decreased visual-spatial abilities

  • Language and speech impairment

  • Impaired judgment and insight 


Can you get disability for Alzheimer’s? 

If your Alzheimer’s symptoms are advanced enough to prevent you from working, you may qualify for Social Security benefits. You’re more likely to qualify if you have already seen a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment and can provide medical evidence showing a change in your cognitive function. 

You can also increase your approval odds by working with a disability lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you on how to show that your Alzheimer’s meets the SSA’s strict criteria. 

Disability benefits vs. retirement benefits

According to the National Institute on Aging, most people who have Alzheimer’s disease first experience symptoms in their mid-60s. If you apply for disability benefits after you reach the full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on when you were born), the SSA will likely deny your application.

That's because you can’t receive Social Security retirement benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits at the same time. (You may still qualify for Supplemental Security Income benefits if you meet the requirements.)

Early-onset Alzheimer’s

If you have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, meaning you were diagnosed before age 65, you automatically qualify for disability benefits through the SSA’s compassionate allowance program.


Criteria for getting disability with Alzheimer’s 

Alzheimer’s can impact every area of your personal and professional life. But an Alzheimer’s diagnosis alone isn’t enough to get Social Security disability benefits. 

The SSA follows official criteria to determine whether or not your Alzheimer’s is severe enough to qualify. In general, the SSA requires both medical and nonmedical evidence that establishes that you have Alzheimer’s and that it significantly impacts you in a work setting. 

To qualify for disability, you must regularly experience symptoms such as:

  • Memory loss

  • Confusion

  • Decrease in executive functioning that makes it hard for you to plan, prioritize, or make decisions

  • Language, speech, or vision impairments

  • Other cognitive impairments that make it impossible for you to work

AND, you can prove that through the following: 

  • Evidence from medical sources: The SSA will accept documentation from your physician or psychologist, as well as input from other health care providers like physician assistants, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and licensed clinical social workers. Evidence should include your diagnosis; your complete set of symptoms; your medical, psychological, and psychiatric history; results of physical or mental exams; medications you take and how effective they are; any therapy you receive and how effective it is; side effects of medication or other treatment that may impact your ability to work; and observations and descriptions of your cognitive function.

  • Evidence from people who know you: The people close to you see firsthand how Alzheimer’s interferes with your work, which is why the SSA considers their perspective. You can include evidence from your family, friends, caregivers, social workers, and anyone else you interact with who can speak to your condition. Their evidence should include your complete set of symptoms and descriptions of your daily functioning and medical treatment. 

  • Evidence from work: The SSA also takes into account how your Alzheimer’s may already be impacting work-related activities. This evidence can come from coworkers or your employer. Their evidence should include how your Alzheimer’s affects your ability to function at work, training or work evaluations, and how they’ve modified your schedule or responsibilities to accommodate your Alzheimer’s

  • Evidence over time: The SSA calls this longitudinal evidence. They’ll want you to provide evidence over a period of months to see if your Alzheimer’s is progressing and whether or not it continues to interfere with your work. 

Your Alzheimer’s is likely advanced enough to be classified as a disability by the SSA if all of the above evidence shows that your cognitive function has declined and it’s become impossible for you to work. 

5 questions to ask yourself before applying

If you can answer yes to these questions, your Alzheimer’s is more likely to be approved for benefits:

  • Do you experience disturbances in your memory? 

  • Do you experience loss of interest or other disturbances in your mood? 

  • Do you have difficulty communicating with others? 

  • Do you often lose your train of thought? 

  • Is it difficult to remember the skills or knowledge you need to do your job? 


My Alzheimer’s meets the criteria. Now what? 

If your Alzheimer’s meets the criteria, you’re ready to apply. Here’s what we suggest: 

  • Apply now if your symptoms make it very hard to work.

  • Consider waiting and applying later if you were recently diagnosed, but your symptoms are manageable, or you haven’t yet stopped working (even if you worry you’ll need to soon).

  • Probably don't apply if you're working (earning more than $1,550 per month) and don't plan to stop.

Whether you apply now or not, get as much medical care as possible. Establishing a relationship with a health care provider will make it easier for you to prove the severity of your Alzheimer’s whenever you are ready to apply. 

You can also take our free 2-minute disability quiz to find out whether or not you qualify before you apply. If you do qualify, we can connect you with an experienced disability lawyer who can increase your odds of approval. You’ll only have to pay your lawyer if you do get approved for disability benefits. 

Which type of benefits should I apply for? 

There are two disability benefits programs available through the SSA. Applying for the right program for your situation is one way to boost your odds of approval. 

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is typically reserved for people who’ve worked at least five of the last ten years, while Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides coverage for people who don’t have much work history and have little to no monthly income. 

The SSA can also approve applicants for both SSDI and SSI. They share the same application, so you can apply for both programs and let the SSA determine which will offer the best benefits for your situation. 


How much is a disability check for Alzheimer’s? 

The average disability check for workers with neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s is $1,304.03, but your actual monthly payment will vary based on your own work and income history. 

It’s important to note, though, that your disability check is capped at a certain amount regardless of how advanced your Alzheimer’s is. The maximum monthly SSDI benefit is $3,822, and the maximum monthly SSI benefit is $943 in 2024.

SSDI amounts

What if my Alzheimer’s doesn’t meet the criteria? 

If your Alzheimer’s doesn’t meet the criteria, don’t give up just yet. It may still be worth applying if you can prove that Alzheimer’s interferes with your work. 

The reality is that qualifying for disability can be challenging, no matter how advanced your condition is. Only 20% of people who apply for disability benefits win their claim on their first application. 

However, perseverance usually pays off since over half of applicants get approved when they appeal their case before a judge. Check out our step-by-step guide to applying for disability benefits to get more support through the application process.

Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2 minutes or less.

Other conditions that can qualify for disability:

Alzheimer's

Anemia

Anxiety

Arthritis

Asthma

Autism

Back pain

Bipolar disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Brain tumor

Breast cancer

Cancer

Carpal tunnel

Colostomy bag

Coma/Vegetative States

COPD

Crohn's disease

Depression

Diabetes

Dialysis

Epilepsy

Fibromyalgia

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Insomnia

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Kidney disease

Long Covid

Lupus

Mental illness

Migraines

Narcolepsy

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

Panic disorder

Parkinson's

Peripheral neuropathy

PTSD

Rheumatoid Arthritis Schizophrenia

Sciatica

Sickle cell

Ulcerative colitis

See all conditions

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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