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Cognitive Disorders and SSA Disability Benefits

Millions of Americans are diagnosed with various cognitive disorders each year. Cognitive disorders can include a variety of conditions which affect an individual’s ability to process information, to learn, to solve problems or to remember.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="A CT of the head years after a traumatic brain injury showing an empty space marked by the arrow were the damage occurred. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)"]A CT of the head years after a traumatic brain...[/caption]

A loss of cognitive ability is common as claimant’s age, but any condition which is severe can affect a claimant’s ability to perform work. Common conditions which can cause cognitive dysfunction include amnesia, dementia (Alzheimers) or delirium.

Common types of Cognitive Disorders


The medical community generally classifies cognitive disorder into three categories:

Delirium can be grouped into hypoactive or hyperactive. Patients with hypoactive delirium are generally nonresponsive. Patients with hyperactive delirium may be angry or hostile. Most types of delirium are temporary and are commonly caused by mild anemia, mild hypoxia or mild hyponatremia.

Dementia is the inability to remember or to learn. This condition is most common in the elderly but can also occur in younger claimants who suffer a stroke, heart attack or severe brain injury.

Amnesia occurs if a claimant does not have the ability to remember events or learn new information. Common causes include substance abuse, exposure to toxins, alcohol abuse, brain trauma or Wernicke- Korsakoff's syndrome.

The three most common cognitive disorders are listed above but there are also a variety of other conditions which are not classified (Cognitive Disorders NOS – Not otherwise specified).

Winning SSDI or SSI for Cognitive Disorders


The SSA has two methods to determine if a claimant is so disabled they qualify for SSI or SSDI benefits. First, the SSA will determine if their condition is listed on the SSA Listing of Impairments (a list of all the conditions and symptoms the SSA considers automatically disabling). If the claimant’s condition is not on the SSA Listing of Impairments (also known as the Blue Book) the claimant will have to prove they do not have enough residual capacity to work through a medical vocational allowance.

Meeting a Listing for Cognitive Disorders


Cognitive disorders can be caused by a variety of conditions. To win benefits for a cognitive disorder by meeting a listing the claimant must show that their condition and symptoms are severe as another condition on the list.

For instance, severe head trauma can cause amnesia or dementia and would be evaluated under listing 11.00 Neurological. Other cognitive disorders would have symptoms similar to mental health disorders which would be evaluated under 12.00 Mental Disorders.

Most claimants who have a cognitive disorder will not meet a listing and will have to prove that they cannot work through a medical vocational allowance.

Winning SSI or SSDI through a Medical Vocational Allowance


To determine if a SSI or SSDI claimant can win benefits through a medical vocational allowance the SSA will evaluate the work effort needed to perform their work. They will also determine the residual capacity the claimant has to work based on their age, education, work history, and health condition.

Claimants should have their doctors clearly document their cognitive problems. For instance, does the claimant have poor concentration, memory or difficulty completing tasks? For instance, claimants who have had a severe head trauma may have impaired attention, concentration or intellectual functioning. If this is clearly documented the claimant can argue that they are unable to work many potential jobs.

If your condition does not meet a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments you may need to talk to a disability lawyer and have them review your medical records to identify what additional medical information you will need to win your SSI or SSDI claim.
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