Classic Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative brain disorder that primarily affects a person’s movement in its early phases. Although resting tremors are a well-known sign of PD, the disease can also produce problems such as muscle stiffness, decreased coordination, difficulty standing and walking, and difficulty speaking clearly. These symptoms can make it difficult or impossible for someone to work. PD’s motor problems are related to a decrease of dopamine production in brain areas critical for smooth movements, but the underlying general disease is caused by an abnormal protein known as alpha-synuclein.
PD is listed under the category of impairments known as neurological. If the following criteria are met, an individual is found to be disabled under the Social Security as meeting a medical listing: Significant rigidity, bradykinesia, or tremor in two extremities, which, singly or in combination, result in disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station. An individual who has the preceding clinical findings and has a diagnosis of PD will be found to meet the medical listing. An individual who has similar findings with a diagnosis of PD may be found to “medically equate” the aforementioned medical listing.
Another way to qualify with PD, is it must be severe enough to significantly limit one’s ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs. For example:
- Walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling
- Seeing, hearing and speaking
- Understanding/carrying out and remembering simple instructions
- Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations
- Dealing with changes in a routine work setting
If the person does not meet the requirements above, you will need to explore the ability of an individual to perform work they have done in the past despite their PD. If the SSA finds that a person can do his past work, benefits are denied. If the person cannot, then SSA looks at the ability to perform other work.
The regulations require a review of age, education, work experience and physical/mental condition to determine what other work, if any, the person can perform. To determine PD disability, the SSA enlists medical-vocational rules, which vary according to age.