Can Essential Tremor qualify for Disability Benefits?
What does the Social Security Administration say about qualifying for disability while suffering from the effects of Essential Tremor?
Author Attorney Lloyd Bemis:
Essential tremor (or “ET”) is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking in an area of the body. Also known as familial tremor or hereditary tremor, the hands and forearms are most often affected, but tremors can also occur in the head, face, tongue, neck and torso. Essential tremor is one of the most common neurological disorders in adults, but can begin at any age and affects approximately seven million people in the United States.
A tremor is an involuntary, rhythmic movement of a body part.
Tremors may be constant, frequent, or occasional and minor or severe. Both sides of the body are usually affected, but may not be equally affected. Most people with ET experience tremors while performing a daily task, such as tying their shoes or pouring a drink. These are called action tremors. Tremors can also occur while not moving; for example, sitting in chair with an arm resting. These tremors are known as tremors at rest.
The following are examples of commonly experienced tremors:
- Shakiness in hands when performing a task
- Tremors in the head and neck, moving the head up and down or from side to side
- Tremors in the tongue causing the voice to be shaky
Some individuals will experience other motor symptoms such as walking in an unsteady manner, while others may develop depression, anxiety or cognitive impairments.
Diagnosis involves observing the tremors and ruling out other causes.
A doctor will perform an exam to evaluate the severity of the tremors and in some cases order imaging tests such as a CT scan or MRI to determine if there is another condition responsible for the tremors, such as Parkinson’s disease. It is important to note that while Parkinson’s disease may cause tremors, it is not an underlying cause of essential tremor.
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 Essential Tremor. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
The progression of ET is slow and gradual.
Treatment of ET focuses on relieving symptoms and in cases where symptoms are minor, treatment may not be necessary. Medications may be prescribed to limit adrenaline and prevent tremors from getting worse. Physical therapy can improve muscle control and coordination. Botox injections in the hands and neck may weaken muscles and minimize or stop shaking.
As a last resort, surgical procedures may provide relief of symptoms in extreme cases:
- Deep brain stimulation. Small electrodes are placed in an area of the brain that controls movement. The electrodes block nerve signals that cause tremors.
- Stereoactic radiosurgery. High powered x-rays target small areas of the brain to correct tremors.
As with many other conditions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding the following can help minimize symptoms:
- Low blood sugar
- Emotional stress
- Very hot or very cold temperatures
The exact cause of ET is unknown, but researchers believe environmental and genetic elements are involved.
ET may be inherited (“Familial Tremor”), but the disorder also occurs in people with no family history. If you have essential tremor, there is a 50% chance that your child will develop the disorder.
There is no doubt that essential tremor can severely impact an individual’s social interactions and daily activities.
Eating, drinking, writing, and dressing may become difficult and a person may no longer be able to function at their job. Though the Social Security Administration does not list essential tremor specifically as an impairment in its Blue Book, it does acknowledge the effects of the disorder under Section 11.00 Neurological:
We evaluate epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, coma or persistent vegetative state (PVS), and neurological disorders that cause disorganization of motor function, bulbar and neuromuscular dysfunction, communication impairment, or a combination of limitations in physical and mental functioning such as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We evaluate neurological disorders that may manifest in a combination of limitations in physical and mental functioning.
Disorganization of motor function means interference, due to your neurological disorder, with movement of two extremities; i.e., the lower extremities, or upper extremities (including fingers, wrists, hands, arms, and shoulders). By two extremities we mean both lower extremities, or both upper extremities, or one upper extremity and one lower extremity. All listings in this body system, except for 11.02 (Epilepsy), 11.10 (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and 11.20 (Coma and persistent vegetative state), include criteria for disorganization of motor function that results in an extreme limitation in your ability to:
- Stand up from a seated position; or
- Balance while standing or walking; or
- Use the upper extremities (including fingers, wrists, hands, arms, and shoulders).
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Income, you must be able to show (1) that your tremor has prevented you, or is expected to prevent you, from working for at least 12 consecutive months, and (2) that you don’t have the ability to function at a sedentary job or that your tremor fulfills the requirements for Social Security’s impairment listing for Parkinson’s disease.
In considering your case, Social Security will perform a Residual Functioning Capacity assessment to evaluate how tremors affect your ability to perform strength-related tasks and your non-exertional (non-strength) impairments. Strength related tasks include lifting, carrying, walking and standing. Non-exertional impairments include difficulty using the hands and fingers for handling objects, difficulty stooping and crouching, and difficulty caused by anxiety, depression or nervousness. If you have the ability to perform a job while sitting, it’s likely that your claim for SSDI will be denied. If the SSA concludes that tremors prevent you from performing a full range of physical activities required by a sedentary job, you may be approved. In submitting your claim, it is important to include – in writing in your medical records – any and all non-exertional limitations you may have where strength-related abilities are not affected by tremors.
If you have tremors in two extremities, such as both hands, and can provide evidence that your symptoms and limitations are as severe as Parkinson’s disease or another similar medical condition, you may meet the requirements of that impairment and be approved.
For example, if you are unable to control the movement in both hands or arms even with three months treatment.
Applying for Social Security Disability Income under essential tremor can be tricky and it’s best to have a qualified disability attorney by your side.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you 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.
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Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 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. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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