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Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD) and Social Security Disability

The challenges faced by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in sorting, evaluating, and determining disability benefit eligibility for the thousands of people who apply for Social Security Disability every year is a task which only increases in difficulty as the SSA faces staffing cuts and more limited funding. Often, the result is increased wait times and higher denial rates for those suffering from disabilities and looking for assistance through Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.

Since the development of the Compassionate Allowance program in 2008, however, the process of qualifying for disability benefits has become substantially smoother for some of our country’s most desperate citizens. Once faced with months or even years of waiting for a determination or appeal hearing, those who suffer with Compassionate Allowance diseases are able to receive benefits as quickly as a few weeks. Since 2008, more diseases have been added to the initial group of 50 Compassionate Allowance diseases and conditions, so that in 2011 the number has grown to 113.

Corticobasal Degeneration is one such recent addition to the list of conditions considered under the Compassionate Allowances program. If you or a loved one suffer with this debilitating disease, the following information will help you understand the Social Security Disability determination process and how best to approach the application process to ensure that you have the best possible chance of receiving disability benefits.

Corticobasal Degeneration – Conditions & Symptoms

Corticobasal Degeneration is a neurological disorder in which neurons and specific portions of the brain shrink away and lose their ability to provide cognitive functions to the brain and movement signals to various parts of the body. The cerebral cortex and the basal ganglia portions of the brain are the most affected.

The cause of CBD is not known and it cannot be cured or treated, except with physical therapy to improve movement. It is usually diagnosed around the age of 60 and causes deterioration for several years, eventually leaving the sufferer unable to walk, and causing complications which lead to death within about 8 years of onset.

The most commonly diagnosed symptoms involve particular movement disorders, and are outline as follows:

  • Parkinsonism – movement disorders associated with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) which include rigidity of movement, inability to complete movements, and an abnormal walking gait. When it occurs in CBD, it usually affects only one limb or opposite limbs. Given the similarities in the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and CBD, it can be difficult to make a firm diagnosis on the basis of this disorder alone.
  • Alien Hand Syndrome – the inability of a person with CBD to control one of their hands because there is no "attachment" to the body (as if it were alien to the patient). This condition is present in 60% of CBD cases.
  • Apraxia – the inability of person with CBD to repeat motions with either their hands or feet. This can cause problems with walking if it occurs in the legs, or may affect only more complex motor skills.
  • Aphasia – the speech disorder which typifies CBD, disabling a person from speaking clearly and recalling or using words. Most CBD patients suffering from aphasia are eventually unable to speak at all.
  • Dementia – deterioration of thought processing and cognitive ability, often also associated with Alzheimer’s. Dementia can occur in CBD cases but is not always present, and can sometimes lead to a misdiagnosis.

Because of the overlap between the symptoms of Corticobasal Degeneration and other conditions such as Parkinson’s, PSP, Alzheimer’s, etc., it is extremely difficult to diagnose conclusively until after death, when the brain can be examined for the anomalies known to the disease.

Imaging technology such as MRI is used to locate damage in the brain after CBD has progressed, but is not always helpful in early diagnosis. Increasing advances in technology will improve the ability of doctors to diagnose CBD more conclusively in earlier stages, but for now clinical diagnosis is based on symptoms and/or imaging.

Applying for Social Security Disability with a Corticobasal Degeneration Diagnosis

It is well know that Corticobasal Degeneration is terminal within eight years of the initial signs of deterioration, and since early diagnosis is difficult, many cases are not diagnosed until it has progressed to the point of significantly disabling an individual.

Having recognized the severely disabling effects of Corticobasal Degeneration as an indicator of almost certain eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA has listed the condition as a Compassionate Allowance. This means the SSA may not require the extensive medical documentation or additional medical examinations which are usually required with non-Compassionate Allowance conditions listed in the Blue Book.

As has been noted, however, CBD is hard to diagnose, and without a firm medical diagnosis of the condition, your case may not be treated as a Compassionate Allowance.

Your Corticobasal Degeneration diagnosis will automatically qualify you for a Compassionate Allowance, providing your medical documentation and other case information supports a positive diagnosis. Acceptable medical evidence of CBD may include full medical records, treatment history, and witness from your doctors and other professionals that the disease totally disables you and prevents you from any type of gainful employment.

Although a Compassionate Allowance streamlines the determination process, you must still meet the basic qualifications for SSDI, including basic work history requirements.

Your Corticobasal Degeneration Disability Case

CBD is a highly debilitating disease and will affect your ability to carry out a normal life.

Although an individual suffering from a Compassionate Allowance such as CBD should be able to receive your benefits in as little as a few weeks, a firm diagnosis can be difficult to document and benefits can never be guaranteed. If you have questions about the disability application process, or would like to ensure that your case has the best possible chance of success, you may wish to contact a qualified disability representative today.