The Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded disability benefits to nearly 235,000 people for neurocognitive disorders like Parkinson’s in 2021. If your Parkinson’s disease makes it impossible for you to work, you may also qualify for monthly disability benefits and healthcare through the SSA.
To help you qualify, we’ll walk through how the SSA defines Parkinson’s disease, when Parkinson’s can qualify for disability, and the next steps you should take to get benefits for Parkinson’s.
Is Parkinson’s a disability?
The SSA considers Parkinson’s disease a disability when it interferes with your ability to work and hold a job. If you can prove that your Parkinson’s is severe enough that you can’t work, the SSA may approve you for monthly disability benefits.
How the SSA defines Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects brain function. Though Parkinson’s does not appear in the Blue Book — where the SSA lists all official conditions — people with Parkinson’s can still qualify for Social Security disability.
Common symptoms that can make it very hard to work include involuntary tremors or spasms, muscle cramping, rigidity or stiffness in the limbs, balance problems, stooped posture, trouble with the digestive system, and difficulties with memory or following instructions. Because of these symptoms, many people with Parkinson’s can qualify for Social Security disability.
The stages of Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s can qualify at any stage if it keeps you from being able to work or hold a job. While some stages of Parkinson’s disease may be more severe than others, every condition is unique.
The five stages of Parkinson’s:
- Stage One: Considered early-stage Parkinson’s, mild tremors and movement symptoms occur on one side of the body. They don’t typically interfere with work.
- Stage Two: Also considered early stage, symptoms progress and affect both sides of the body.
- Stage Three: Loss of balance is the most common stage three symptom, which is also referred to as mid-stage Parkinson’s.
- Stage Four: People at this stage experience severe symptoms and often need assistance with daily activities like walking.
- Stage Five: People at stage five require around-the-clock care. Many people are also bedridden as their stiffness and tremors advance.
Other types of Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is just one type of Parkinsonian syndrome. They may present similarly, but they all have different causes. Any of these types of Parkinsonian syndrome can qualify for disability if the symptoms are severe enough:
- Progressive supranuclear palsy
- Multiple system atrophy
- Corticobasal degeneration
When can you get disability for Parkinson’s?
If you have Parkinson’s and you can no longer work, it is possible to qualify for monthly disability benefits and healthcare. You’re more likely to qualify if your Parkinson’s has reached mid or late-stage and your symptoms continue to progress.
No matter what stage of the process you’re in, a disability lawyer can also help increase your odds of approval.
Criteria for getting disability with Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease can be debilitating. It can even advance until you’ll need near-constant care. Yet a Parkinson’s diagnosis isn’t enough on its own to qualify you for Social Security disability.
To determine if you’ll qualify, consider whether your Parkinson’s meets the following two conditions:
1. You have advanced, documented symptoms
You can meet this criteria if you’ve been diagnosed with mid- or late-stage Parkinson’s disease, or your Parkinson’s has progressed to more advanced symptoms. You should aim to have both medical and non-medical evidence that your Parkinson’s is severe and makes it difficult for you to work, whether that’s because of its physical or neurological effects.
2. Your Parkinson’s persists even with treatment
You can qualify for benefits if, for at least three months following your prescribed treatment, you have difficulty controlling motor function in at least two limbs — which extremely limits your ability to stand up, balance while standing or walking, or use your arms and/or hands.
The SSA will also check to see if you’ve experienced a marked limitation in one of the following areas, even after months of treatment:
- Understanding, remembering, or applying information
- Interacting with others
- Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
- Adapting to changes or managing your own daily activities
If you experience any of the above symptoms, your Parkinson’s is likely severe enough to qualify for disability.
Questions to ask yourself before applying
If you answer yes to most or all of the questions below, you likely qualify for disability:
- Do you struggle to stand for long periods of time?
- Do your tremors or spasms make it difficult for you to complete tasks?
- Do you struggle to communicate with others?
- Do you find it difficult to focus on tasks?
- Do you need help to complete daily activities like getting dressed?
My Parkinson’s meets the criteria. Now what?
If your Parkinson’s meets the criteria and you have sufficient medical documentation of your condition, you can apply for disability at any time.
You can still apply if you’re not sure whether your Parkinson’s will qualify, but the application is time-consuming and may only be worth it if your odds of approval are high. To help you decide, here’s what we suggest:
Apply now if:
- You have mid or late-stage Parkinson’s disease.
- Your symptoms make it very hard to work.
- You require support with other daily activities.
Consider waiting and applying later if:
- You have mid-stage Parkinson’s and your symptoms are stable, even if you worry that they may soon progress.
- You haven’t yet stopped working because your symptoms aren’t yet disruptive.
Probably don't apply if:
- You have early-stage Parkinson’s and your symptoms are mild.
- You're working and earning more than about $1,400 per month.
Before you apply, you can also take our free 2-minute disability quiz to find out whether or not you’ll qualify. If you do qualify, we can also connect you with an experienced disability lawyer who will help you navigate the application with Parkinson’s. (Our services are always free and you only have to pay the lawyer if you win disability benefits.)
How much is a disability check for Parkinson’s?
The average disability check for neurocognitive disorders like Parkinson’s is $1,377.36 per month.
However, your actual check will vary based on your work and income history. Regardless of the severity of your Parkinson’s, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) offers a maximum monthly benefit of $3,600 while the maximum Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment is $914 per month in 2023.
Learn more about the differences between SSDI and SSI.
What if my Parkinson’s doesn’t meet the criteria?
Qualifying for disability is challenging no matter how severe your condition is. But applying for disability is all about persistence.
Only 20% of people who apply get approved through their initial application. If you do get denied, you can always appeal your case, at which point your odds of approval will be much higher. Just over 50% of people who appeal their case in front of a judge do get approved for benefits.
For more information on how to prepare for the application process, check out our step-by-step guide to applying for disability.