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Is Dementia a Disability? How to Qualify for Disability Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
November 29, 2023  ·  3 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

See if you qualify

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 5.8 million people in the U.S. have dementia. In 2021, nearly 235,000 workers were awarded Social Security disability benefits due to neurocognitive disorders like dementia. 

If you have dementia and are unable to work because of your condition, you may qualify for disability benefits and healthcare through the Social Security Administration (SSA). We'll walk you through the SSA’s criteria for dementia to qualify for disability and offer insights on the challenging process of securing benefits.


Is dementia a disability?

Yes, the Social Security Administration considers dementia a disability. If you can demonstrate that you're unable to work due to your dementia, then you may qualify for disability benefits. The SSA lists dementia in the SSA Blue Book, a document of qualifying conditions, under the sections of neurodegenerative disorders of the central nervous system and neurocognitive disorders. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also considers dementia a disability. The ADA is a civil rights law in the U.S. that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas of public life, including employment.


Common symptoms of dementia

Rather than one specific disease, dementia generally refers to the loss of cognitive functioning, which can affect areas like remembering, thinking, and decision-making. Common symptoms of dementia can include:

  • Changes in ability to speak, understand, or read and write

  • Declining interest in daily activities

  • Hallucinations or experiences of delusions or paranoia

  • Impulsive actions or lack of consideration for others' feelings

  • Memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion

  • Taking longer to complete routine tasks

  • Wandering and getting lost in familiar surroundings


5 Common types of dementia

There are several types of dementia. The most common types of dementia include:

  1. Alzheimer’s disease: The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for up to 80% of dementia cases. Individuals with Alzheimer’s have difficulty remembering recent events. 

  2. Frontotemporal dementia: Individuals with frontotemporal dementia, also known as Pick’s disease, experience changes in personality and behavior. Additionally, people with frontotemporal dementia may experience issues with language skills.

  3. Lewy body dementia: In addition to memory loss, people with Lewy body dementia might experience issues with movement, changes in alertness, difficulty sleeping, and visual hallucinations. 

  4. Mixed dementia: In mixed dementia, more than one type of dementia exists in the brain. This type of dementia is most common among those 80 and older.

  5. Vascular dementia: This type of dementia, which accounts for around 10% of cases, is linked to issues with blood flow to the brain. This is the second most common type of dementia.


Can you get disability for dementia?

Yes, you can get disability benefits for dementia if your condition is severe enough that it makes you unable to work. Your chances of qualifying are higher if you have a diagnosis, are undergoing treatment, and can provide medical evidence demonstrating the effects of your dementia. To determine eligibility, the SSA will evaluate:

  • Medical evidence: This category can include your medical history, exam findings, and results of relevant lab tests and imaging.

  • Non-medical evidence: This includes statements made by you or by others about your impairments, restrictions, daily activities, and efforts at work.

Criteria for dementia

The SSA’s criteria for qualifying for benefits with dementia are as follows:

You regularly experience symptoms related to your dementia, and you have demonstrable declines in one or more of the six cognitive domains:

  • Complex attention

  • Executive function

  • Learning and memory

  • Language

  • Perceptual motor

  • Social cognition

AND

You have extreme limitations in one of the following areas, or marked limitations in two or more of these areas:

  • Appropriately managing yourself and adapting as necessary

  • Concentrating and keeping up

  • Interacting with others

  • Understanding, remembering, or applying information

Other health conditions associated with dementia

Applying with more than one qualifying condition can strengthen your disability application. Many individuals with dementia have other age-related conditions, chronic illnesses, and neurodegenerative disorders, including:

  • Age-related musculoskeletal disorders

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Huntington's disease

  • Parkinson's disease

Learn more about qualifying conditions for disability benefits.


Is dementia on the Compassionate Allowance List?

The SSA includes some types of dementia on its Compassionate Allowance List (CAL), which permits people with serious conditions to get faster medical approval. The following dementias are CAL conditions:

  • Adult-onset Huntington's disease

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease 

  • Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease

  • Frontotemporal dementia

  • Lewy body dementia

  • Mixed dementia

  • Primary Progressive Aphasia

  • Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

  • The ALS Parkinsonism Dementia Complex

Individuals with types of dementia on the Compassionate Allowance List still need to meet SSA eligibility rules.

Ready to get benefits today?

Should I apply for disability benefits?

Before you apply for disability benefits, consider asking yourself the following questions to assess your chances of qualifying. If you're able to answer "yes" to all or most of the following questions, there's a higher chance you will qualify:

  • Do you experience disturbances in your memory?

  • Do you struggle to communicate with others?

  • Do you struggle to recall the skills or knowledge necessary for you to perform your job?

  • Have you experienced a loss of interest or other disturbances in your mood?

  • Have you found yourself often losing your train of thought?

If your dementia meets the criteria, the next step is to apply for disability benefits. If your case is unclear, here's some guidance to help you determine what to do next:

Apply now if:

  • You've been diagnosed with dementia and had your symptoms evaluated.

  • Your dementia makes it extremely difficult to work.

  • You have another qualifying health condition.

Consider waiting and applying later if:

  • You're still able to work in some capacity, even if you think you may no longer be able to in the future.

Probably don’t apply if:

Even if you're not sure your dementia will meet the criteria, it might still be worth applying. Just be prepared to prove that your dementia hinders your ability to work.


SSDI vs. SSI: what’s the difference?

As you navigate the application process, you'll learn there are two types of disability benefits you can apply for: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs, administered by the Social Security Administration, support individuals who are unable to work due to a disability by providing monthly checks and health insurance.

There are differences between SSDI and SSI — namely, the two programs are targeted toward two distinct populations. SSDI is for people who have worked and paid taxes for years, including for at least five of the last 10 years. SSI, on the other hand, is for people who haven’t worked much or at all and who have low income and few assets.

If you're helping a loved one apply for disability benefits, it's important to understand which type of benefits is a better fit for them.


How much is a disability check for dementia?

On average, individuals receiving disability benefits for neurocognitive disorders like dementia receive a monthly check of $1,304.03. Several factors determine monthly benefits amounts, including your work history and sources of income.

The maximum payment amount for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 2024 is $3,822. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), recipients can get a maximum of $943. Learn more about SSDI and SSI payment amounts and calculations.


Get help with your application

To see if you qualify, take our 2-minute quiz. If your answers indicate you're likely to qualify for disability benefits, we'll get in touch to learn more about your case. And if you're interested, we'll match you with a disability lawyer.

Getting matched with a representative is free — you won't owe anything until after you win benefits. Working with a lawyer can increase your odds of winning benefits by three times.

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

Related resources:

What Medical Conditions Qualify for Social Security Disability?

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

Can You Get Disability for Alzheimer’s Disease?

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

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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