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Parkinson's Disease and Social Security Disability

Parkinson’s Disease – Condition and Symptoms

Parkinson’s Disease (alternatively known as idiopathic parkinsonism, primary parkinsonism, and PD) is a progressive degenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is the result of the death of cells which contain dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the midbrain. While some cases seem to have a genetic connection, the vast majority have no known cause.

The most common early symptom of Parkinson’s Disease is a tremor, usually beginning in one of the hands, and usually happening when the hand is at rest. One of the distinctive characteristics of this tremor is called “pill rolling”, a circular motion where the tip of the thumb meets the end of the index finger. Another typical feature of Parkinson’s is that the symptoms usually begin on one side of the body, with that side’s symptoms consistently having a greater severity than those of the other side. Other motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease include:

  • Bradykinesia, or slowness of movement - this usually begins to affect fine motor skills such as writing, buttoning clothing, etc. and worsens to include gross motor skills like walking as the disease progresses.
  • Rigidity of the limbs - due to excessive contraction of the muscles.
  • Postural instability - balance can become difficult during later stages of the disease, leading to falls and bone fractures.

Other physical symptoms can include a forward-flexed walking posture, blank facial expression, speech problems, a shuffling gate, and the loss of some automatic movements such as blinking or swinging of the arms while walking.

As the disease continues to progress, cognitive problems manifest themselves in the form of memory, mood, and behavioral problems. Dementia may set in, and depression and anxiety commonly manifest in later stages of the disease.

Parkinson’s Disease can be treated with some medications, with varying degrees of success, and physical therapy can assist in maintaining muscle strength and flexibility. In some cases, an electrode planted deep within the brain can also provide significant relief from symptoms, especially tremors. This approach has proven to be effective for patients whose response to medication has been erratic or limited.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

Under guidelines set forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in its impairment listing manual (more commonly called the “Blue Book”), Parkinson’s Disease is a condition that can qualify a person for Social Security Disability benefits provided that certain diagnostic criteria are met and documented. For Parkinson’s Disease, these criteria include rigidity, bradykinesia, or tremor in two extremities causing ongoing problems with movement, gait, or ability to stand.

There is no single test that can provide a definitive diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Diagnosis is based upon an evaluation of the symptoms present, as well as a neurological examination. Also, the presence of at least two of what are considered to be the “cardinal symptoms” of Parkinson’s (which are tremor, bradykinesia, and muscle rigidity) can be considered to be strongly indicative of the presence of the condition. Additionally, tremors of the hands that occur while the hand is at rest, symptoms that begin on one side of the body, and/or a positive response to levodopa (a standard Parkinson’s medication) are also telltale diagnostic tools.

The Blue Book makes no mention of the cognitive, emotional, or behavioral disturbances as they relate to later-stage Parkinson’s Disease, but it can be assumed that these symptoms could be used as the basis for a Social Security Disability case on their own should they become serious enough to inhibit one’s ability to work. If the disease has progressed to this point, however, the patient has likely already qualified based on physical/motor symptoms.

Your Parkinson’s Disease Disability Case

If you or a member of your family has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, the symptoms which prompted the diagnosis may also serve as the qualifications for Social Security Disability benefits. With the amount of documentation necessary to prove the presence of these qualifying criteria, it would likely be in your best interests to have your case evaluated by a Social Security Disability attorney.

While the degree of impairment caused by these symptoms may seem obvious to you, having them sufficiently documented so their impact is adequately illustrated on paper is imperative to receiving a positive decision from the Social Security Administration. Working in close collaboration with your healthcare providers, an experienced Social Security Disability attorney can be sure the proper documents are provided when your application is submitted so your benefits can begin as soon as possible.

All too often, claimants are denied Social Security benefits based on missing, inaccurate, or incomplete paperwork. As a result, the applicant must then begin on the arduous disability appeal process. Unfortunately, the this process is long and slow, resulting in excruciating delays. A Social Security Disability lawyer can make sure you have the documents you need the first time, saving you the hassle and the delay of a lengthy disability appeal process.

To speak with a qualified Social Security Attorney about your chances of getting Social Security benefits, request a free disability case evaluation today.