Is Dementia a Disability? How to Qualify for Disability Benefits
November 29, 2023 · 3 min read
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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Learning and memory
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:
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
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease
Lewy body 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:
Your symptoms are manageable enough to continue working.
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.
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.
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