Cerebral Atrophy and Qualifying for Disability Benefits
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Cerebral Atrophy?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
Cerebral atrophy – or brain atrophy – is the gradual loss of brain cells called neurons that causes the brain to lose mass and shrink in size. When brain tissue shrinks the connections between neurons are destroyed. Loss of brain mass is a very slow process and a natural occurrence. The brain reaches maximum mass around age 25 and then gradually begins to lose mass. Most people have lost 15% of their brain mass by age 75, but don’t experience any decline in mental or physical functions. If you are suffering from the effects of Cerebral Atrophy you may qualify for disability benefits.
In contrast, cerebral atrophy progresses rapidly and can affect the entire brain or regions of the brain.
How it impacts a person depends on the part of the brain affected and the functions controlled by that specific area. Focal brain atrophy affects cells in a certain area of the brain, resulting in a loss of function controlled by those specific areas while generalized brain atrophy affects cells all over the brain.
Brain cells can be damaged by disease, an injury, or an infection leading to cerebral atrophy.
In some cases it may be difficult to discern whether cerebral atrophy is the result of a medical condition, or if cerebral atrophy is the cause of a disease. It is also possible for cerebral atrophy to be present at birth.
The many possible causes of cerebral atrophy include:
- Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia;
- Traumatic brain injury;
- Cerebral palsy;
- Huntington’s disease;
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
- Type II diabetes;
- Drug and alcohol abuse;
- Bipolar disorders.
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Cerebral Atrophy. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Symptoms depend on the area of the brain affected.
Generalized cerebral atrophy typically occurs in adulthood and begins with a loss of skills. Acute focal brain atrophy manifests within weeks after a head injury, stroke, or infection. Common symptoms include:
- Changes in mood, personality or behavior
- Memory loss;
- Difficulty in thinking, comprehension, and planning;
- Aphasia – the inability to speak, read or write;
- Vision impairment;
- Muscle weakness and stiffness, slow movements, or tremors.
In diagnosing cerebral atrophy, a doctor will first consider what disease or injury may be causing the condition.
In addition to a complete physical exam, several different diagnostic tests may be ordered to create detailed images of brain tissue:
- Computer Tomography (CT scan);
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI);
- Positron emission tomography (PET) – evaluates how tissues and organs work at the cellular level;
- Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) – uses radioactive materials to produce images.
Treatment focuses on the disease, infection, or injury that is causing the condition and may involve medications and nonmedical therapies as well as surgery.
Among those prescribed are:
- Medications to prevent strokes;
- Medications that change the amount of chemicals controlling brain signals or treat symptoms of cognitive impairment;
- Anti-convulsive medications to prevent seizures;
- Antibiotics to treat underlying infections and prevent cell damage and other complications;
- Anti-viral drugs, steroids and antibody drugs;
- Surgery to prevent further cell damage;
- Physical therapy to slow loss of muscle control;
- Speech therapy for aphasia.
Cerebral atrophy caused by malnutrition or drug or alcohol abuse may be reversed, but there is no treatment for brain damage caused by conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, or Huntington’s disease.
However, in those cases, medications can ease the symptoms of the condition.
Cerebral atrophy can progress to the point where a person is no longer able to function and continue their normal daily activities, including maintaining a full-time job.
Applying for Social Security Disability Income can be tricky, though, as cerebral atrophy is not listed as an impairment that automatically qualifies for disability benefits in Social Security’s Blue Book. However, many cases of cerebral atrophy are caused by or directly related to another medical condition that is included in the Blue Book, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease and traumatic brain injury, all listed under Section 11.00 Neurological, and neurocognitive disorders, listed under Section 12.02. If your disability matches the criteria set out under any of those medical conditions, you may be eligible for disability benefits.
Still, qualification is not automatic. To be eligible, you must meet Social Security’s general and financial requirements.
- You must have worked long enough and recently in a job where Social Security taxes were deducted from your income;
- You must also be earning less that SGA (Substantial Gainful Activity), which in 2024 is $1550 per month; and
- Your disability must be severe enough to prevent you from performing any job for at least 12 months.
In addition to a confirmed diagnosis, Social Security will expect to see the following medical evidence:
- A complete medical history;
- Report of a neurological exam;
- Results of imaging tests;
- Current medications and treatments you are taking, including responses and side effects;
- Doctors’ opinions of your physical and mental abilities and limitations.
If you have cerebral atrophy, but your disability does not meet the requirements of a listed impairment, you may still qualify for SSDI if you have another impairment, for example high blood pressure or arthritis.
Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself cerebral atrophy may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but if you have multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.
The Social Security Administration is more concerned with your abilities than the diagnosis of a specific disease.
Social Security will conduct a Residual Functional Capacity assessment (RFC) to evaluate how your limitations affect your ability to work and if there is any job you can do, taking into account your age, level of education, job skills and whether or not you are able to drive. Applicants who are over 50, have less education and have performed unskilled labor have a good chance of being approved for disability benefits based on an RFC.
If you have cerebral atrophy and you are no longer able to maintain a full-time job, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Income, but applying for disability benefits can be complicated.
Consulting an experienced disability attorney can streamline the process and greatly improve your chance for a successful claim.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.
The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.
- The Duration of Work test. Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
- The Current Work Test. Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.
The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.
- Are you working? Your disability must be “total”.
- Is your medical condition severe? Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
- Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
- Can you do the work you did before? SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.
More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Greg Reed has been practicing law for 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Reed obtained board certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Greg is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the United States Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit. Mr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, and an Associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Reed and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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