November becomes National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month

President Obama has proclaimed November, 2016 to be the first National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest of tasks is eroded. For those of us with likely genetic propensity for developing Alzheimer’s, this disease is very worrisome. We often watch our grandparent, aunt, and/or parent develop this disease and can see firsthand the realities of how devastating and heartbreaking the disease can be. Some estimates suggest more than 5 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s, and it may be the 3rd highest cause of death for older people behind heart disease and cancer. (“Number of Alzheimer’s Deaths Found to be Underreported” NIH, May 22, 2014; also see – https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet?utm_source=20161101&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ealert ).

While most cases are not identified until a person is over 60 years of age, we are noticing more diagnoses of “early onset dementia” in our disability practice. The Alzheimer’s Organization indicates “early onset” Alzheimer is being diagnosed as early as age 40. Because this age is considered to be the prime wage earning years, an early diagnosis can have an even greater financial and emotional impact on a family. Social Security disability in these earlier onset cases becomes extremely important. But, the majority of cases involving dementia as the sole basis for disability are being denied with judges opining that such individuals can find other work or learn a different skill. This is not always the case.

According to the National Institute on Aging, the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary from person to person. For many, difficulty with tasks like word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. However, typically Alzheimer’s progresses in three stages:

  • Mild Alzheimer’s Disease—at this stage, people experience more than just forgetfulness. Problems can include wandering and getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, and personality and behavior changes. People are often diagnosed in this stage and begin having problems with sustaining work activity. They do not appear to be disabled to the Social Security judges and are likely to be denied.
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease—In this stage, damage occurs in areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and conscious thought. Memory loss and confusion grow worse, and people begin to have problems recognizing family and friends. They may be unable to learn new things, carry out multistep tasks such as getting dressed, or cope with new situations. In addition, people at this stage may have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia and may behave impulsively. This stage usually results in more clear examples of the complete inability to function in the work place. Most of these claims may get approved with the right kind of medical records although some still get denied.
  • Severe Alzheimer’s Disease—People with severe Alzheimer’s cannot communicate and are completely dependent on others for their care. Near the end, the person may be in bed most or all of the time as the body shuts down.

In his proclamation, President Obama states, “A heartbreaking disease present in more than 5 million Americans, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and causes people to lose many of the critical abilities they need to live independently. Too often, those suffering from Alzheimer’s cannot recognize their loved ones or remember how to perform daily tasks, struggling physically and mentally with things that once came naturally. Although we have long known Alzheimer’s to be irreversible and fatal, we maintain hope that by advancing research and treatment options we can work to change these outcomes and ensure brighter prospects for all those who face this disease. During National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, we resolve to continue working toward this brighter future as we stand with every person battling, Alzheimer’s and their loved ones.” (For the remainder of the proclamation visit – https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/10/31/presidential-proclamation-national-alzheimers-disease-awareness-month )

If you have a loved one with early onset dementia and need to apply for disability or need to appeal a denial of Social Security disability, please contact Syfrett, Dykes & Furr at (850) 795-4979 for a free consultation. We have attorneys that know the types of information that needs to be in your medical records to support your claim for benefits.

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