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Alzheimer's and SSD: compassionate allowances and beyond

Alzheimer's is not only a devastating disease. It's a disease whose reach is spreading. By 2050, researchers believe, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's could nearly triple to nearly 14 million.

How are these numbers likely to affect the availability of Social Security disability benefits? The question is important not only in Michigan, but across the country.

Obviously it becomes difficult or even impossible to work when memory loss from Alzheimer's makes cognitive impairment increasingly severe. That is why, a couple of years ago, the Social Security Administration added early-onset Alzheimer's to the list of conditions eligible for the agency's Compassionate Allowances program. This program is essentially a fast-track entry into the Social Security disability application process.

Under current eligibility criteria, however, the availability of Social Security disability income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Alzheimer's depends in part on the stage of the disease. A diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's makes someone eligible under the Compassionate Allowances program.

For people who are struggling with Alzheimer's but did not have early onset, however, eligibility for Social Security disability is not so clear. As symptoms worsen, it may become possible to show multiple impairments that meet the definition of disability. This could be possible even if the mental impairments from Alzheimer's are not yet severe enough to do so on their own.

As the number of people with Alzheimer's increases, though, the government may well add Alzheimer's in any stage - not merely early-onset - to the list of SSD eligible impairments. Already the Obama administration says it is creating a national plan to tackle the disease. This includes an aggressive goal of finding effective techniques for prevention and treatment by 2025.

Source: "Number of Americans With Alzheimer's May Triple by 2050," US News & World Report, Amy Norton, 2-6-13

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