Until recently, aphasia was probably not on most people’s radar. But the diagnosis of Bruce Willis with this communication disorder has now brought it to the forefront of many discussions.
For those who are still unclear, aphasia is a medical condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate. This may include difficulties with language comprehension as well as speaking, reading, and writing. Many times, aphasia happens suddenly after a stroke or head injury. But there are other forms that progress slowly over time because of a rare neurological condition.
The ability to communicate is generally a vital skill to retain employment. As a result, those suffering from impairments in this area may wonder if it’s possible to get disability for aphasia. The answer is yes, but there are several different ways to go about filing a claim. Let’s explore.
What Exactly Does Aphasia Look Like?
Aphasia may present in different ways depending on the part of the brain affected as well as the severity of a person’s condition.
With mild aphasia, an individual may still be able to engage in normal conversations but might confuse words. When people are using long sentences or complex terms, the person with aphasia may need extra time to process. Their brain tends to omit or switch words, take things literally, or have trouble coming up with the correct response.
Imagine always having the right word on the tip of your tongue, but never being able to find it. That’s what aphasia may feel like.
However, with severe aphasia, affected individuals may understand very little or nothing people are saying to them. Often, they may only be able to speak single words, or be completely nonverbal. In advanced cases, amnesia may also become a symptom.
When not resulting from stroke or brain injury, serious aphasia likely falls into the category of Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). A rare neurological disorder that is a type of frontotemporal lobe dementia, PPA symptoms begin gradually, often before age 65. They then progress over time leading to a degeneration of the brain tissue involved in speech and language. There is no cure for PPA.
With mild cases, a person may still be able to work, so disability may not be on the table as an option. When symptoms are more severe, however, that’s when filing a disability claim might make sense.
When Does Aphasia Qualify for Social Security Disability?
There are many categorizations for aphasia. Where an affected individual falls on this spectrum largely depends on what portion of the brain precipitates their condition. When it comes to seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) these differentiations come into play.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a “Listing of Impairments” that may qualify an individual for SSDI or SSI. It uses this “Blue Book” to evaluate claims. An applicant suffering from aphasia, or other loss of language skills, could feasibly be found disabled under several different listings.
For example, under the “Neurological Disorders” section, there are listings for stroke (11.04), benign brain tumors (11.05) and epilepsy (11.02). Depending on the trigger for a person’s aphasia, one or more of these could provide a clear pathway to a successful disability claim. However, in these cases, aphasia is probably more likely a symptom of these other neurological conditions.
When it comes to getting disability purely for aphasia, a primary progressive diagnosis is the road that leads to approval. The SSA will evaluate PPA applications under the Vascular insult to the brain (11.04) or the Neurocognitive Disorders (12.02) section.
In fact, because it’s a long-term disability with no cure, the SSA will actually expedite PPA claims for processing. This is through the Compassionate Allowance (CAL) initiative, a program identifying conditions that automatically meet the SSA’s disability standards.
PPA is on the CAL list, meaning qualified applicants don’t have to wait the usual 5 months before claiming benefits. But they will have to show definitive proof of diagnosis.
What Tests are Necessary to Satisfy the SSA’s Definition of Disability for Aphasia?
When it comes to PPA, there are certain markers that an applicant must satisfy to demonstrate their aphasia is severe.
However, as mentioned above, if an individual shows evidence of progressive aphasia and cannot work, they will qualify for disability. This is, of course, assuming they meet the other general SSDI or SSI financial qualifications as well.
So, what does an individual with PPA need as far as medical records and tests to submit to the SSA? Well, PPA symptoms vary depending on which language area of the brain it touches. The three types of PPA are:
- Semantic. The patient has difficulty comprehending word meanings, spoken/written words, and naming objects.
- Logopenic. The patient has difficulty retrieving words and repeating phrases/sentences, and pauses frequently searching for the right words.
- Nonfluent-agrammatic. The patient has difficulty forming words, understanding sentences, using grammar correctly, and producing proper speech sounds.
As part of a disability application for PPA, an individual must submit notes from a clinical exam with a doctor. These medical records must describe the diagnostic features of this individual’s impairment using the three types of PPA.
Additionally, an applicant must supply documentation of their medical history, a speech language assessment, and neurological findings consistent with PPA. An MRI or CT scan of the brain language areas including frontal and temporal lobes will also be necessary.
The difficulty with diagnosing PPA is that not all patients exhibit symptoms in the same manner. That’s why gathering as much evidence to support an SSDI/SSI application is always a good move. Even with the CAL designation, the SSA will reject claims that are filled out improperly or lack sufficient medical evidence.
You May Qualify for Legal Help
The reality is that in most advanced PPA cases, 24-hour care is a necessity. So, disability benefits can really help defray that financial burden. Especially if you’re a family member trying to help. Unfortunately, the varying symptoms of aphasia can make it more challenging to definitively prove. Consider consulting with a skilled disability attorney who can make sure you have the requisite records in place. It will cost you nothing upfront and will give you the peace of mind to move forward. Because aphasia is not just a phase.
In addition, know that disability lawyers always work on contingency. That means you pay $0 for legal help unless the SSA awards you benefits. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee. You’re also 3x more likely to get disability benefits right away if an attorney files your paperwork.
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Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann