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Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a life-altering moment that not only impacts the individual diagnosed but also poses unique challenges for their families and caregivers.

As this neurological disease progresses, it can gradually strip away memories, comprehension skills, and even basic care abilities. 

While medical treatments cannot alter Alzheimer’s trajectory, disability benefits may provide some practical and financial support for both patients and caregivers dealing with its heavy toll.

There is often uncertainty around qualifying for disability coverage when cognitive decline appears. 

The application and approval process involves navigating bureaucratic hurdles while coping with a condition that impacts memory, reasoning, and paperwork skills. 

This can add emotional stress at a time when it’s most needed.

This article provides an overview of avenues available for obtaining disability benefits for Alzheimer’s in the United States. 

It will outline the differences between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), explain eligibility requirements, and cover common strategies for navigating applications.

But first, let’s understand some basics about Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. It gradually erodes cognitive function, impacting memory, thinking, and behavior. 

Named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first described the condition in 1906, the disease primarily affects individuals aged 65 and older. 

However, early-onset Alzheimer’s can manifest in individuals in their 40s or 50s.

The disease involves an accumulation of abnormal deposits of beta-amyloid protein forming plaques and twisted strands of tau protein forming tangles inside brain cells. 

Over time, these deposits damage surrounding neurons and synapses in areas involved with learning, memory, and cognition, leading to the death of brain cells and the loss of brain tissue.

Loss of brain volume and neuronal death eventually lead to an inability to communicate and complete basic activities of daily living.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, symptoms will significantly worsen. 

In the final stages, individuals may be unaware of family/friends and need round-the-clock assistance with basic tasks.

While Alzheimer’s is widely believed to stem from a complex interplay of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors, the exact mechanisms through which it develops are still under research.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Memory loss that affects daily life 
  • Challenges in completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Changes in sleep patterns including insomnia or sleeping during the day
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality such as depression, suspiciousness, or agitation
  • General loss of initiative
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Image Credit: uclahealth.org

What Counts as “Disability”?

When considering whether Alzheimer’s disease qualifies for disability benefits, it’s important to understand how disability is defined. 

The concept exists on a spectrum rather than being a simple classification.

In a medical sense, disability refers to impairments, limitations, or abnormal symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to engage in typical daily activities compared to others of similar age and gender.

The Social Security Administration has its own criteria for determining disability status:

  • Inability to do work performed before the onset of the disabling medical condition(s)
  • Symptoms that prevent adjustment to other forms of substantial gainful work due to related functional loss
  • The disability must have lasted or be expected to last continuously for at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.

So while a diagnosis provides objective evidence of a medical impairment, it’s the ensuing functional limitations and impact on workability over the long term that SSA considers as qualifying an individual for disability benefits due to their condition.

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Considered a Disability?

Yes, Alzheimer’s disease qualifies as a disabling medical condition according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

This is because the disease is progressive, and individuals will ultimately develop severe cognitive and functional impairment.

The SSA has recognized Younger/Early-Onset Alzheimer’s as a condition eligible for consideration under its Compassionate Allowances program. 

This expedites the application process, recognizing early-onset Alzheimer’s as a readily apparent qualifying disability. 

The Alzheimer’s Association has been a very strong advocate for this change to reduce application burdens.

Alzheimer’s is also specifically listed under sections 11.00 and 12.00 of the SSA’s Blue Book, which outlines disabling medical conditions. 

These pertain to neurological and mental disorders.

Disability Benefit Programs for Alzheimer’s Patients

For Alzheimer’s patients, disability benefits hold immense importance. 

Often, those with early-onset Alzheimer’s encounter initial denials, adding an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging situation. 

Disability benefit programs are available for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI serves as a vital financial lifeline for individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s who can no longer engage in substantial gainful activity due to their medical condition. 

Administered by the SSA, SSDI offers monthly payments to eligible individuals, with eligibility hinging on factors like work history and payment of social security taxes. 

2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

In addition to SSDI, individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

SSI is a need-based program providing financial assistance to those who are age 65 or older, blind, or disabled. 

Eligibility is determined by financial need, offering support to individuals facing economic challenges due to their Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

3. Medicaid

Medicaid also plays a pivotal role in supporting individuals with Alzheimer’s by covering medical care and long-term care costs. 

Unlike SSDI, which is exclusively a federal program, Medicaid is jointly funded by federal and state governments. 

This means that eligibility criteria and benefits may vary depending on the state of residence. 

For those eligible for SSI, Medicaid coverage may also be accessible

Disability Benefits for Caregivers

In addition to the financial support available for individuals with Alzheimer’s, caregivers assisting a person with Alzheimer’s may also qualify for specific tax benefits and credits. 

These provisions acknowledge the unique challenges faced by caregivers and aim to alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

If a person with Alzheimer’s continues to pay taxes, the condition can be recognized as a disability affecting their tax returns. 

Beyond this recognition, caregivers may access various tax deductions and credits, including:

1. Medical Expense Deductions: 

Caregivers may qualify for medical expense deductions for the taxpayer, their spouse, and any dependents if the costs exceed 10% of their gross income

This deduction encompasses a range of medical expenses associated with caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.

2. Child and Dependent Care Credit: 

Caregivers may benefit from the child and dependent care credit, covering up to 35% of caregiving expenses incurred to enable them to work or actively seek employment. 

3. Long-Term Care Insurance Deductions or Credits: 

The law considers premiums for long-term care insurance as medical expenses, potentially qualifying caregivers for deductions or credits. 

This recognizes caregivers’ proactive steps to secure long-term care coverage for individuals with Alzheimer’s.

4. Additional Caregiver Tax Credits: 

Depending on the state of residence, caregivers may be eligible for additional caregiver tax credits, providing further financial relief based on the specific caregiving responsibilities and challenges they face.

These caregiver-focused tax benefits contribute to creating a supportive environment for those dedicating their time and resources to caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s. 

How to Obtain Disability Benefits for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimers
Image Credit: labiotech.eu

The SSA offers multiple channels for submitting applications, ensuring accessibility for diverse circumstances.

The most convenient method is to apply online through the SSA’s official website

For those who may face challenges using computers for extended periods, a loved one can assist in completing the application. 

Additionally, applicants can apply in person at their nearest SSA office by scheduling an appointment via the toll-free number 1-800-772-1213.

When initiating the application, individuals need to provide essential information, including:

1. Personal Details: Date and place of birth.

2. Family Information: Details about marriage, divorce, and children.

3. Employment History: Employer or self-employment details for the past 2 years.

4. Financial Information: Banking account number for direct deposit.

5. Medical Records: Contact information for doctors, medical history of Alzheimer’s, and details of any other medical conditions.

6. Work Background: Job history, education, and training.

Given the complexity of the application process, seeking assistance from an SSA office or a lawyer experienced in disability claims can be beneficial. 

The inclusion of Alzheimer’s in the compassionate allowances program conditions has also been a game-changer. 

This adjustment has streamlined the application process for SSDI/SSI, providing a more straightforward and expedited pathway to much-needed benefits.

While it takes five months to start receiving disability benefits, the approval process can be remarkably swift, often within 10 days

To apply for Medicaid, individuals should check their state’s eligibility requirements on the Medicaid website.

Subsequently, creating an account and completing the application can be done through various channels, including paper, email, phone, or online.

Disability Compensation for Alzheimer’s Individuals

For those facing Alzheimer’s or other neurocognitive disorders, the average monthly disability payment is around $1,377.36.

In 2024, the highest monthly benefit you can receive from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is $3,822, and for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), it’s capped at $943.

These figures provide a general sense of potential disability income for an individual with Alzheimer’s. 

However specific payment amounts are computed based on the worker’s average covered monthly earnings over their career. 

Those with higher lifetime incomes averaging the maximum taxable earnings may receive closer to the set limits, while others may receive benefits reflecting more modest historical earnings. 

While an Alzheimer’s diagnosis indelibly changes lives, these disability programs aim to partially offset lost wages for those forced to retire earlier than planned due to the devastating effects of the disease.

Conclusion

In the early stages, the classification of Alzheimer’s as a disability may vary, influenced by individual experiences, symptomatology, and legal criteria. 

However, as Alzheimer’s advances, it solidifies both as a medical and legal disability, paving the way for entitlement to crucial benefits like Social Security and Medicaid. 

Financial support exists at different stages of the disease, and caregivers can access assistance, albeit with regional variations.

Seeking guidance from social security offices, dementia organizations, or legal professionals can provide valuable assistance in understanding and securing the necessary resources.

FAQ’s:

1. At what point does Alzheimer’s become legally recognized as a disability?

Alzheimer’s is generally considered a legal disability as it progresses, aligning with the increasing severity of symptoms.

2. Can individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s apply for disability benefits online?

Yes, the Social Security Administration encourages online applications for convenience.
Alternatively, individuals can apply in person or through a representative.

3. Is Medicaid available for individuals with Alzheimer’s who are not eligible for SSI?

Yes, Medicaid eligibility depends on state-specific criteria, and individuals not eligible for SSI may still qualify based on income and assets.

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