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Lewy Body Dementia and Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration has been processing increased numbers of disability claims in recent years, a phenomenon at least partially due to the aging of the Baby Boomers. At the same time, the administration has felt pressure from budget cuts and limited funding that are the result of heated political debates about “entitlement” reform and reports of the Social Security programs’ fiscal insolvency.

All this has led to an unprecedented backlog of claims awaiting determination and appeal hearings, many of which take a full year or more to be processed. When dealing with a disability, especially those which are severe and life-threatening, affected individuals cannot afford to be waiting that long for the assistance that they need.

Fortunately, the SSA took action in 2008 to create a list of Compassionate Allowances – diseases and conditions which can be quickly identified for faster claim processing due to well-documented evidence that they invariably qualify for disability status. If your condition is among this 100+ list of Compassionate Allowances, your claim will be processed in as little as a few weeks.

Lewy Body Dementia, among the 13 newest identified Compassionate Allowance diseases, will qualify beginning in December 2011.

Lewy Body Dementia – Conditions & Symptoms

Although many of the diseases which are eligible for a Compassionate Allowance are rare, Lewy Body Dementia is not. In spite of the fact that the condition affects 1.3 million Americans every year, many medical professionals are still not familiar with it.

Early detection of Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is critical to the success of its treatment since certain treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diseases for which it is often mistaken, can have tremendously variable positive or negative effects on patients with LBD.

Dementia is a condition which affects cognitive skills, and usually occurs with the onset of age. Although roughly 10% of cases are the type which can be reversed, most dementia is progressive and irreversible, significantly impairing a person’s ability to function in everyday life.

There are four types of dementia – Alzheimer’s, LBD, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

LBD is a term used for both Parkinson’s disease dementia and Dementia with Lewy Bodies (LBD). The dementia diagnosis depends on when the person with Parkinson’s experiences dementia. If it’s within the first year, it is termed LBD. If the dementia occurs later, it is termed Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.

The common conditions which occur in LBD are as follows:

  • Loss of cognitive abilities similar to Alzheimer’s disease in early stages, but with distinctive features. LBD is often mistaken for Alzheimer’s when it’s in the early stages because of similarities between symptoms of the two conditions, but as it progresses it exhibits more symptoms which indicate LBD. These include varying levels of cognitive ability and alertness, hallucinations, body movement changes, and the REM sleep behavior disorder in which people act out their dreams. LBD sufferers may also have severe hallucinogenic reactions to drugs.
  • Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Many LBD cases start out with symptoms of Parkinson’s and later develop other LBD symptoms.

Lewy bodies, certain protein formations found in the brain scans of those with Lewy Body Dimentia which cause the symptoms of the disease, are also found in those with Parkinson’s disease, lending to the similar symptoms between the diseases.

Lewy Body Dimentia is not curable, but is usually treated with medications are to treat both the movement and cognitive symptoms of the disease. However, because people with DLB are sensitive to medications, a delicate balance must be achieved.

Applying for Social Security Disability with a Lewy Body Dementia Diagnosis

Lewy Body Dimentia inevitably decreases a person’s ability to care for him or herself over time. Because of this, LBD is listed under the SSA Compassionate Allowances initiative.

To qualify for a Compassionate Allowance with Lewy Body Dimentia, a person must file for Social Security Disability and provide sufficient medical documentation to fully support a Lewy Body Dimentia diagnosis. This includes records of doctors’ exams, tests including brain scans which indicate the presence of Lewy bodies, and sufficient evidence of the symptoms which characterize Lewy Body Dimentia.

In the case of diseases which do not automatically qualify as a Compassionate Allowance, the SSA uses the Listing of Impairments (Blue Book) as the standard by which disability status is determined. Although Lewy Body Dimentia was not previously described in the Listing of Impairments, the SSA will utilize established criteria for the disease to qualify you.

In addition to meeting the medical conditions of a Lewy Body diagnosis, you must have sufficient vocational information and witness from doctors which shows your inability to perform “substantial gainful activity” or obtain income of any kind.

Your Lewy Body Dementia Disability Case

With the recent addition of Lewy Body Dementia to the SSA’s list of Compassionate Allowance-qualifying diseases, it has become easier than ever for LBD suffers to receive a swift determination so they can receive the living assistance they desperately need to survive.

In order to ensure that your application is submitted with all appropriate paperwork and medical documentation in order, and to be certain that your disability claim has the best possible chance of a timely decision, you may wish to consult with a qualified disability representative prior to applying for Social Security Disability benefits for a loved one with Lewy Body Dementia.