Table of Contents
- Parkinson's Disease – Condition, Symptoms & Diagnosis
- Disability For Parkinson's Disease
- How To Apply For Disability With Parkinson's Disease
- How Long Does It Take To Get Disability For Parkinson's?
- What If My Parkinson's Doesn't Qualify For Disability?
- How Much Is A Disability Check For Parkinson's Worth?
- How A Disability Lawyer Can Help
- Sources & Additional Resources
Parkinson's Disease – Condition, Symptoms & Diagnosis
Parkinson’s Disease – Condition
Parkinson's Disease is a progressive and degenerative condition that affects the central nervous system (CNS). People also know Parkinson's disease as idiopathic parkinsonism, primary parkinsonism, or PD.
Parkinson's Disease happens when cells in the brain that produce a chemical called dopamine start to die off. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control muscle movement. When there's a loss of dopamine in the brain, the brain has a harder time communicating with the body's muscles. This leads to difficulties in controlling movements.
While some cases of Parkinson's Disease appear to have a genetic link, most cases don't have a clear cause.
Parkinson’s Disease – Symptoms
The earliest sign of Parkinson's is often a tremor that begins in one hand, usually when the hand is resting. This tremor has a distinctive circular motion, resembling the rolling of a pill between the thumb and index finger.
Other common symptoms of Parkinson's include:
- Bradykinesia, or slowness of movement. It usually begins by affecting small movements like writing or buttoning clothes before getting worse and affecting bigger movements like walking.
- Stiffness in or rigidity of the limbs due to excessive muscle contractions.
- Postural instability. Problems with balance which can lead to falls and fractures in advanced stages.
Other physical symptoms can include:
- a forward-leaning posture
- expressionless face
- shuffling walk
- loss of automatic movements (e.g., blinking, swinging arms while walking, etc.).
In addition to the physical symptoms, cognitive issues can also arise as Parkinson's disease progresses. Cognitive issues can include memory problems, mood swings, and behavior changes. Dementia, depression, and anxiety often occur in later stages, along with other movement problems like dystonia.
Although doctors can use certain medicines to treat Parkinson's, they may not always work the same for everyone. Additionally, the effectiveness of such medications can vary. Physical therapy can help people with Parkinson's disease maintain muscle strength and flexibility. And, in some cases, a surgically implanted brain electrode can help Parkinson's disease patients control their symptoms, especially tremors.
Parkinson’s Disease – Diagnosis
Diagnosing Parkinson's Disease doesn't rely on a single test; it involves assessing symptoms and conducting a neurological examination. The presence of at least two cardinal symptoms (tremor, bradykinesia, muscle rigidity) strongly suggests Parkinson's. Shaking hands (due to tremors), symptoms that start on one side of the body, and a positive response to levodopa are also significant indicators.
If these symptoms severely hinder your ability to work, they can serve as the basis for a Social Security disability claim. However, by this point, you may already qualify based on physical symptoms.
Disability For Parkinson's Disease
Is Parkinson’s A Disability?
Yes, Parkinson's Disease can be considered a disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA). In order for the SSA to consider your Parkinson's a disability, your Parkinson's must interfere with your ability to work for at least 1 year.
If you are able to prove that your Parkinson's is severe enough to make you unable to work, you might be approved for Social Security disability benefits.
The SSA's Definition of Parkinson's Disease
The SSA defines Parkinson's disease as a neurodegenerative disorder that impacts brain function and makes it hard to control your body. Although Parkinson's disease is not listed in the SSA's Blue Book—a medical guide that lists every official disabling condition—it can still qualify for disability benefits.
This is because many of Parkinson's common symptoms can make it incredibly difficult—if not, impossible—for people to work.
The Stages of Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson's disease has five stages:
- Stage 1. In this stage, mild tremors and movement problems affect one side of the body. These usually don't disrupt your ability to work. Stage 1 is considered early-stage Parkinson's.
- Stage 2. In this stage, symptoms worsen and impact both sides of the body. Stage 2 is also considered early-stage Parkinson's.
- Stage 3. In this stage, balance problems (e.g., balance loss) become common. Stage 3 is mid-stage Parkinson's.
- Stage 4. At this stage, symptoms are severe. People with Stage 4 Parkinson's often need help with everyday tasks (e.g., walking).
- Stage 5. People with Stage 5 Parkinson's require constant care. A lot of people at this stage are bedridden due to their advancing tremors and stiffness.
Regardless of the stage, if Parkinson's prevents you from working, you can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Remember, each person's experience with Parkinson's is unique, and severity can vary.
Other Types of Parkinson's Disease
Apart from Parkinson's disease, there are other types of Parkinsonian syndrome. Although they may seem similar, they each have unique causes. If the symptoms of any of the following Parkinsonian syndromes are severe enough, you might qualify for disability:
- Multiple system atrophy
- Progressive supranuclear palsy
- Corticobasal degeneration
For any of these types of Parkinsonian syndrome to be eligible for disability benefits, their symptoms must be so severe that they interfere with your ability to work.
Does Parkinson’s Qualify For Disability?
To qualify for Social Security disability benefits with Parkinson's Disease, you must:
- be unable to work for at least a year, and
- meet certain criteria outlined in the SSA's "Blue Book," which is a list of conditions that qualify for disability benefits.
Working Ability as a Qualifying Factor for Disability Benefits
If your Parkinson's prevents you from working for a year or more, you can qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.
Qualifying for Disability Benefits via the Blue Book
To qualify for disability with Parkinson's, you'll have to meet specific criteria outlined in the Blue Book. Parkinson's Disease is listed in Section 11.06 of the Blue Book.
To show the SSA that you meet the medical requirements for your Parkinson's to be considered a disability, your medical records and documentation must align with the Blue Book's criteria. Specifically, you must have:
- Significant motor function issues in two limbs, making it extremely difficult to stand up from a seated position, maintain balance while standing or walking, or use your upper limbs.
- A marked limitation in physical functioning, and in one of the following areas:
- Understanding, remembering, or applying information.
- Interacting with others.
- Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace.
- Adapting or managing oneself.
Meeting these criteria will likely classify you as disabled by the SSA. In turn, this will likely make you eligible for Social Security disability benefits for Parkinson's Disease.
Further Reading: "Medical Criteria Needed to Qualify for Disability with Parkinson's Disease"
What Benefits Can You Claim If You Have Parkinson’s?
Social Security Disability Benefits.
If you have Parkinson's, you can claim two types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- SSDI benefits are for people who used to have a job but now can't work because of a disability like Parkinson's. To get SSDI benefits for Parkinson's:
- the SSA must consider your Parkinson's to be a disability, and
- you must have sufficient work credits. The specific number of work credits you need depends on your age and how much you've worked in the past.
- SSI benefits are for people or families who have a disability like Parkinson's and have limited income(s) and resources.
Medicare and Medicaid.
If you're eligible for SSDI, you're also likely eligible for Medicare. This is because people who qualify for SSDI can get Medicare after a 24-month waiting period. And many SSI recipients qualify for Medicaid. These monthly payments and medical coverage help make sure you and your family have what you need.
Medicare and Medicaid are federal programs that cover most healthcare costs.
- Medicare is a federal program available to people with disabilities and those aged 65 and over. If you qualify for SSDI benefits with Parkinson's, you'll also be eligible for Medicare.
- Medicaid is a federal healthcare program that provides services predominantly to low-income individuals and families.
Eligibility Criteria For Getting Social Security Disability Benefits For Parkinson's
While Parkinson's can be disabling, a diagnosis alone doesn't automatically qualify you for disability benefits. To figure out if you'll qualify, think about whether your Parkinson's meets these two conditions:
1. You have well-documented advanced symptoms.
You can qualify for benefits if:
- you have been diagnosed with either mid- or late-stage Parkinson's disease, or
- if your Parkinson's symptoms have progressed to be more advanced.
When applying for Social Security disability benefits, providing both non-medical and medical evidence is essential. This evidence should demonstrate that your Parkinson's severely impairs your working ability, whether due to its neurological or physical effects.
2. Your Parkinson's symptoms persist despite treatment.
To meet this criteria, you must—in at least two limbs—have difficulty controlling movement. This difficulty should persist for a minimum of three months after your prescribed treatment. And, as a result, it's hard for you to stand, use your hands, and balance while walking or standing due to this severe limitation.
The SSA will also check if you've had, even after months of treatment, a marked limitation in one of these areas:
- Applying, remembering, or understanding information
- Interacting with other people
- Maintaining, persisting, or concentrating pace
- Managing your daily activities or adapting to changes
If you are dealing with any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is likely that your Parkinson's is severe enough to qualify you for disability benefits.
Before you apply, ask yourself these questions:
If you answer "yes" to all—or almost all—of the following questions, it is likely that you meet the SSA's eligibility criteria for disability:
- Do your spasms or tremors hinder your task completion?
- Do you struggle with standing for extended periods?
- Is communication with other people difficult for you?
- Do you find it hard to focus or concentrate on tasks?
- Do you require assistance with daily tasks such as getting dressed?
How To Apply For Disability With Parkinson's Disease
My Parkinson's Disease Qualifies For Disability. What's Next?
If you have Parkinson's and it qualifies for disability benefits, you can apply for disability whenever you're ready. Additionally, you need to have enough medical proof to show that your Parkinson's is disabling.
Even if you're unsure whether your Parkinson's qualifies, you can still apply. However, keep in mind that the disability application process takes time. Therefore, it might be worth waiting until your chances of getting approved are high before applying. To help you decide, here are some suggestions:
Apply now if:
- Your Parkinson's disease is mid or late-stage.
- Your symptoms make it extremely difficult to work.
- You need help with everyday tasks.
Think about waiting and apply later if:
- You have mid-stage Parkinson's, and, even if you're concerned they might get worse soon, your symptoms are stable.
- You're still working since your symptoms haven't disrupted your job yet.
Maybe don't apply if:
- You have early-stage Parkinson's with mild symptoms.
- You are currently employed and you earn more than approximately $1,400 each month.
How To Actually File for Social Security Disability For Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis
When beginning your application, start by carefully filling out the necessary forms provided by the SSA. Ensure that your medical records, including your doctor's documentation of symptoms, physical limitations, and treatments, are complete and up-to-date.
Organization is key when applying for disability. Listing all relevant information on your application is a good place to start. Also, consider providing a written list of symptoms and side effects when visiting your doctor. This can help ensure that there's consistency throughout your application and you have medical evidence to back up your claims.
To prove that your Parkinson's disease is a disability, you'll need substantial medical evidence. This should include a comprehensive medical history that outlines the progression of your disease and results from a full physical examination(s). Your neurologist's documentation of physical limitations, such as difficulty with movement, balance, or work-related activities, is crucial.
Furthermore, you should document any mental limitations you experience due to Parkinson's, such as concentration issues or emotional control problems. Be sure to provide details about the treatments you have received, including medications, surgeries, and therapies. Additionally, let the SSA know if your condition has worsened despite undergoing treatment. This evidence will help establish your eligibility for disability benefits.
If you're uncertain about the disability application process for Parkinson's or have questions about what evidence to include in your application, consider seeking assistance from a disability lawyer or advocate. They are often an invaluable resource for disability claimants for a number of reasons. Plus, they can significantly improve your chances of success.
Further Reading: "What Documents Do I Need to Apply for Social Security Disability?"
How Long Does It Take To Get Disability For Parkinson's?
The time it takes to get disability benefits for Parkinson's Disease can vary. After submitting your initial SSDI application, it typically takes the SSA about 3-5 months to make a decision. The exact duration depends on how quickly you provide your medical records and information to the SSA.
If the SSA denies your initial application, don't panic. You can still potentially qualify by filing an appeal. But doing so unfortunately takes more time.
That's why it's important to make sure you have lots of medical records and evidence to back up your initial application. In addition to increasing your approval likelihood, having enough evidence can also expedite the disability application process as a whole.
What If My Parkinson's Doesn't Qualify For Disability?
Regardless of your Parkinson's severity, it can be tough to qualify for disability. But the key to getting disability benefits is to keep trying.
Only about 20% of all initial disability applications get approved by the SSA. So, if your application ends up getting denied, you should know you're not alone.
Keep in mind that you can always appeal your case if you get denied. Plus, appealing significantly increases disability claimants' chances of getting approved. A little over half the people who appeal their claim in front of a judge end up getting disability benefits.
If you want more details on how to best prepare for the disability benefits application process, take a look at our step-by-step guide on applying for disability.
How Much Is A Disability Check For Parkinson's Worth?
The average monthly disability payment for conditions like Parkinson's, which affects thinking and memory, is approximately $1,377.36.
However, the exact amount you'll receive can vary depending on your work history and how much money you used to make. SSDI provides a maximum monthly benefit of $3,600. The highest SSI payment is $914 per month in 2023.
A disability lawyer will be able to tell you how much disability you can get.
Use our Social Security Benefits Calculator to estimate your benefits before filing your claim.
How A Disability Lawyer Can Help
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, and you're thinking about applying for Social Security disability benefits, you should strongly consider having a disability lawyer or advocate review your case.
This is because applying for disability can be quite challenging. A disability lawyer can provide assistance every step of the way—helping with everything from collecting the necessary application documents to filling out your application to reviewing your claim before you submit it. Furthermore, working with a disability lawyer can also improve your chances of being approved for disability by the SSA.
Further Reading: "How Can an Attorney Help Your Parkinson’s Disease Claim?"
Unfortunately, many disability claims are denied due to missing, inaccurate, or incomplete paperwork which can lead to lengthy appeals processes. A Social Security disability lawyer can help you gather the necessary documents, saving you time and unnecessary frustration.
To discuss your chances of receiving Social Security benefits and get help with your claim, fill out the Free Disability Evaluation form on this page and get connected with a disability attorney today—at zero cost to you.
- "Disability Benefits | How You Apply" – (U.S. Social Security Administration)
- "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, 11.00 Neurological - Section 11.06 Parkinsonian Syndrome" – (U.S. Social Security Administration)