Since brain injuries are usually difficult to see, our symptoms and life challenges are often questioned. I’d like to thank Ram Meyyappan, of Social Security Disability Help, for being so kind as to provide very useful information for those who are thinking about applying for Social Security Disability. His article follows:
Cognitive Impairments are what is known as an “invisible” medical condition. Thus, it can be difficult to prove to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that your cognitive impairment qualifies for social security disability (SSD) benefits. The best way to do so is by providing the SSA with as much medical documentation as possible.
There are many conditions that can cause cognitive impairment. Cognitive disorders associated with an organic medical condition, which is one that has a physical root cause, are more likely to be approved for disability benefits. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires significant medical evidence in order for someone to be found eligible for SSD benefits and easier to provide medical documentation for an organic mental condition.
Types of Cognitive Disorders that may qualify for SSD Benefits
With the appropriate medical evidence, many medical conditions that cause cognitive impairment may qualify for disability benefits. The following conditions however, are a few of those that are more likely to meet the SSA’s requirements if certain forms of clinical documentation are present in your application and medical records:
- Cerebral Cognitive Affective Disorder (CCAD)
- Pick’s Disease
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Vascular Dementia
Appropriate Medical Documentation for Proving your Cognitive Disorder
Cognitive impairment can sometimes be tied to an organic medical condition through the following medical tests:
- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) – this neuroimaging test makes it possible to clinically document changes in blood flow to different regions of the brain. With brain injuries and other kinds of conditions which commonly result in cognitive impairment, changes in blood flow indicate the advancement of disease or at least the physical presence of an organic root cause for a disability applicant’s claim of suffering from decreased cognitive function.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – a standard MRI can show many changes in the brain structure and physical or cognitive function. For instance, in degenerative brain disorders, MRIs conducted over time, document the progression of disease and the associated loss of cognitive function that results from that progression.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan – like an MRI, CTs can often document the organic cause of cognitive function. In strokes for exam, a CT scan can show the location of the vascular event and the effects on the brain tissue surrounding the brain bleed as well.
- Neurological Exams – physical clinical evaluations, conducted by a neurologist or other physician, can document the functional affects of cognitive impairment. When combined with other clinical evidence, the results of these kinds of exams can be instrumental in proving disability.
For example, cognitive impairment that is accompanied by a decreased ability to control motor muscle movements, can support the presence of an organic root cause for both cognitive impairment and the loss of physical coordination. Many forms of dementia result in both the loss of motor abilities as well as cognitive decline.
- Lab Tests – while lab tests, or blood panels, do not often document the presence of cognitive disorders, they are nonetheless important in proving disability if you suffer from a cognitive brain disorder. This is because many cognitive impairments present similar symptoms to other types of clinical medical conditions.
Lab work can prove to the SSA that your impairment is not caused by another medical condition. This is especially important when other potential culprits for your cognitive symptoms are treatable. For example, vitamin B-12 deficiency can result in severe memory impairment as well as other symptoms. Ruling out the presence of this issue can help substantiate your claim for disability based on a clinical cognitive impairment.
- Neuropsychological Tests – these types of tests can clinically document your mental function and, when conducted as a series of tests over a period of time, can also document decline in your cognitive function. These types of tests cannot capture an image of the location of a brain injury or other organic cognitive disease. They can however prove involvement of certain areas of the brain in your cognitive impairment.
The understanding of which parts of the brain control particular abilities, like language, memory, and visual processing, means decline in specific cognitive abilities point to an organic cause in the corresponding area of the brain responsible for controlling those abilities. In other words, if your language skills are impaired, then an organic issue with your brain’s language center is likely to exist. Neuropsychological test results, when combined with other medical documentation, can significantly improve your ability to prove your disability to the SSA.
Article by Ram Meyyappan