Alzheimer’s Disease and Disability Benefits
Although Alzheimer’s disease usually affects older adults, early onset of the illness can occur at any age. Individuals who are older and eligible for Social Security retirement benefits may receive support through that program, but younger people affected by Alzheimer’s may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Disability benefits can help pay for everyday bills, medical expenses, and for supportive services you may need.
Social Security Disability Programs
The Social Security Administration has two disability programs for which a person with Alzheimer’s may qualify:
- Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, which is a program for disabled workers. To qualify, an applicant must have paid into the Social Security system over the course of his or her employment. Payments into the system are made through Social Security taxes and accumulate as “work credits.” A work history is therefore necessary to get SSDI. The amount of work you need to qualify for SSDI will depend on your age when you’re applying. Younger applicants are of course not expected to have worked as long as a 60-year-old applicant. Nobody will need more than 40 credits, or ten full years of work.
- Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, which is a program for disabled individuals or all ages who have limited financial resources with which to support themselves otherwise. To qualify for SSI, you must have low income and minimal assets. The SSA only counts some finances though, so many people are able to get benefits through this program.
Some applicants are able to receive benefits through both SSDI and SSI. Others may only qualify for one program. Either way, SSDI benefits can be the additional support needed when you’re unable to work.
Qualifying Medically for SSD Benefits with Alzheimer’s
Meeting program-specific requirements is only half of the qualification process for SSD. You must additionally meet medical eligibility criteria. Alzheimer’s is a clearly disabling condition, but the SSA still has a review process through which you must prove your diagnosis and show the limitations your illness places on your ability to work and earn a gainful living.
Usually, the SSA compares medical records and other evidence to disability listings to determine if you’re eligible for benefits. There is no standard Alzheimer’s listing in the SSA’s Blue Book however. This is because Alzheimer’s is an illness that usually affects older adults. These older adults are often eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits and therefore don’t apply for disability.
It is important to understand though that:
- If you are under the age of 70, you can apply for SSD instead of taking Social Security retirement benefits.
- If you are under the age of 65 and develop Alzheimer’s, you “automatically” medically qualify for disability through the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance (CAL) program.
CAL is designed to shorten the wait for disability benefits and get people approved with minimal medical evidence. To be approved through the CAL program, your medical records must show:
- Progressive dementia, documented by a psychiatrist, neurologist, or your primary care doctor.
- Dementia that is documented through standardized test results, for example, the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scale
- A report of how much you are able to do every day. This is known as your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation. This form is sent to you via mail by the SSA during the application review process, but you can also download the form online here.
Applicants between the age of 65 and 70 who decide to apply for disability rather than take Social Security retirement benefits can medically qualify by closely matching one of the following Blue Book listings:
To qualify under one of these listing, your medical records must show:
- A definitive diagnosis, made by a neurologist, psychiatrist, or other medical doctor and using standardized testing methods, like the CDR scale
- Severe comprises in your ADLs
Applying for Benefits
Whether you can qualify through CAL or must go through a standard review procedure, submitting an application is the first step. SSDI and SSI require separate applications:
- You can apply for SSDI online via the SSA’s website or you can schedule an appointment to apply in person at a local SSA office.
- To apply for SSI, you must participate in an interview with an SSA representative. These interviews are usually conducted at the local SSA office.
Visit the SSA’s website to start the SSDI application, or call 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment locally. If you are a family member, friend, or caregiver applying for benefits on behalf of a person with Alzheimer’s, you can apply online or in person through the same methods.