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Organic Mental Disorders and Social Security Disability

Organic Mental Disorders - Condition and Symptoms

Organic Mental Disorders, also referred to as chronic Organic Brain Syndromes, are afflictions of the brain that can lead to severe mental or behavioral problems. They may be permanent or temporary, and can be either hereditary or caused by injury, disease, or a structural or systemic defect in body chemistry or hormones. Organic Mental Disorders do not include disorders that result from substance abuse, nor do they include psychiatric disorders.

Common symptoms of Organic Mental Disorders include confusion, memory loss, loss of brain function, and agitation, but symptoms can differ somewhat based on the condition.

Examples of common Organic Mental Disorders are delirium, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and amnesia.

Delirium is an acute onset neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by confusion, incoherent thought and speech, hallucinations, and delusions. Delirium can be caused by intoxication or withdrawal from medication, by ingesting a toxic substance, by infection resulting from other medical conditions, or by a combination of factors. The degree of delirium can fluctuate substantially, and a person suffering from delirium may have periods of lucidity. Sleep patterns of affected individuals are often highly disturbed. Unlike dementia (and Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia), delirium can often be reversed.

Dementia is characterized by a gradual loss of brain function and a decline in cognitive or intellectual functioning. People with dementia have symptoms similar to those listed for delirium (confusion, problems with mood, speech, and thought), as well as changes in personality and disorientation. Not medically considered a disease, dementia is rather identified as a disorder evidenced by a collection of irreversible symptoms.

Alzheimer's Disease, the most common form of dementia, is characterized by an increasingly severe loss of cognitive and intellectual functioning, generally over a period of ten to fifteen years. In addition to this loss of function, a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease will develop abnormal tissue and protein deposits in the brain.

Amnesia is characterized by partial or total loss of memory which is not part of delirium or dementia. Long term memory is usually not as affected as short term memory. Amnesia can be caused by shock, psychological disturbance, brain injury, or illness. Amnesia can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

Medical tests used for the diagnosis of Organic Mental Disorders vary depending on the disorder, but may include blood tests, EEGs, or CT or MRI scans of the brain. A physician will also test for underlying causes of the disorder, which might be treated according to the type of illness or injury.

Appropriate treatment of Organic Mental Disorders will depend on the specific disorder, but unfortunately the only treatment for many disorders is limited to supportive care. In the case of delirium and dementia, the person affected may need assistance in most aspects of daily living. Medication can sometimes be prescribed to help control symptoms such as sleeplessness, aggressive behavior, or depression.

Filing for Social Security Disability with the Diagnosis of an Organic Mental Disorder

The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers Organic Mental Disorders under Section 12.02 of the Blue Book. A related listing, “Cerebral Trauma - Traumatic Brain Injury,” is found in Section 11.18. The SSA defines Organic Mental Disorders as “psychological or behavioral abnormalities associated with a dysfunction of the brain” and requires that when you apply for disability benefits you submit records documenting the patient’s medical history, including examinations or laboratory tests which demonstrate the presence of a specific organic factor judged to be the cause of the person’s abnormal mental state and loss of mental function.

In order to meet the eligibility requirements of this section and qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must meet the stipulations of BOTH Paragraph A and Paragraph B below, or ALL of the stipulations of Paragraph C.

  1. You must demonstrate the loss of specific cognitive abilities or affective changes and must provide medical documentation of the persistence of at least one of the following:

    1. Disorientation with regard to time and place; OR
    2. Short, intermediate, or long term memory impairment, defined as either the inability to learn new information or the inability to remember information that was previously known; OR
    3. Perceptual or thinking disturbances (e.g., hallucinations, delusions); OR
    4. Change in personality; OR
    5. Disturbance in mood; OR
    6. Fluctuations in emotions and their intensity (e.g., explosive temper outbursts, sudden crying, etc.) and impairment in impulse control; OR
    7. Loss of measured intellectual ability of at least 15 I.Q. points or overall impairment index clearly within the severely impaired range on neuropsychological testing
  2. AND

  3. These changes must result in at least two of the following:

    1. Marked restriction of the activities of daily living; AND/OR
    2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; AND/OR
    3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; AND/OR
    4. Repeated episodes of worsening symptoms, each of extended duration.
  4. OR

  5. Medically documented history of a chronic Organic Mental Disorder of at least two years' duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated by medication or psychosocial support, AND one of the following:

    1. Repeated episodes of worsening symptoms, each of extended duration; OR
    2. A residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to worsen the person’s symptoms; OR
    3. Current history of one or more years' inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.

Your Organic Mental Disorder Disability Case

If you are disabled because of an Organic Mental Disorder so severe that it prevents employment, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. Working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate materials to support your disability claim can help to ensure that your Organic Mental Disorder disability case will have the highest possible chance of success.