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Is Epilepsy A Disability?

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The short answer is yes, epilepsy is a disability. It is listed in section 11.00 of the Social Security Administration (SAA) Blue Book under neurological disorders. An individual must meet the eligibility criteria of the Blue Book listing to qualify for disability for epilepsy. 

Epilepsy is known to be chronic, disabling, and even isolating. People with epilepsy are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act. 

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), disabled individuals must meet the first part of the ADA definition. This states that a person’s daily life activities are substantially limited from their condition. 

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain characterized by recurring seizures. The disorder likely has many causes due to genetic abnormalities or brain injury, but often the source is unknown. Seizure symptoms can range from simple staring spells or convulsions to total loss of consciousness. 

Seizures vary widely in frequency among people with epilepsy.  Many people greatly reduce the frequency with which seizures occur through medication and treatment, with some becoming completely seizure-free within a few years.  Others continue to experience frequent, uncontrollable seizures. Adults with epilepsy may apply for disability benefits from the SSA.

Common Types of Epilepsy

Fundamentally, seizure-type mental disorders have two groups, Generalized and Partial. Before learning the process of getting disability for epilepsy, it is helpful to understand the different types of seizure disorders and their symptoms.

  1. Generalized – Characterized by abnormal electrical impulses distributed broadly throughout the brain.
  2. Partial (also known as Focal or Localized) – Characterized by electrical impulses localized to a specific part of the brain.

Generalized and Partial groups are further organized into classifications based on symptoms:

Generalized epilepsy classifications

Generalized tonic-clonic

  • First, the patient may lose consciousness and could collapse
  • They experiences body stiffening, called the “tonic” phase
  • The patient experiences uncontrollable and violent jerking, known as the “clonic” phase
  • Finally, there is a sleep stage called the “postictal” or “after-seizure” phase

It is important to note that anyone suffering tonic-clonic (formerly called grand mal) seizures can experience accidents and injuries such as tongue biting or urinary incontinence.

Disability Benefits for Epilepsy

Symptoms of Epilepsy

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Epilepsy is a non-communicable disease that affects the brain. It is a chronic impairment that can affect people of any age group. 

On the global front, approximately 50 million people have epilepsy. People with the condition are more likely to have brain damage, depression, and bipolar disorder symptoms. They also have an increased risk of premature death. Therefore, it can be helpful to understand the symptoms of the condition to reduce risk. 

Following are the types of seizures associated with epilepsy:

  1. Absence

Absence seizures are more common among children than adults. The primary symptoms include:

  • Momentary loss of consciousness 
  • Person stops an activity or stares blankly
  • Frequent seizures up to several each day
  • Person is unaware the seizure happened
  1. Myoclonic

Symptoms include:

  • Sporadic and brief jerking movements, typically on both sides of the body
  • Jerks are described as feeling like electrical shocks
  • Movements may become dangerous, such as involuntarily throwing or dropping objects
  1. Clonic

Symptoms include:

  • Repetitive and rhythmic jerking movements
  • Jerking movements involving both sides of the body simultaneously
  1. Tonic

Symptoms include:

  • Muscle stiffness
  • Rigidity
  1. Atonic

Symptoms include:

  • Sudden, generalized loss of muscle tone
  • Common particularly in the legs and arms 
  • Can result in falls and injuries

Partial epilepsy classifications

Simple partial

Simple partial seizures may include four different types of symptoms:

  • Motor symptoms can include jerking, muscle rigidity, stiffening, head-turning, and spasms
  • Sensory symptoms, including unusual sensations that may affect up to all five senses 
  • Autonomic symptoms, including a rising sensation in the stomach termed “gastric uprising”

Psychological symptoms, include memory phenomena similar to déjà vu, complex psychological phenomena, and specific emotions like pleasure and fear

Complex partial seizures

Symptoms of complex partial seizures may include:

  • Impairment of awareness
  • Feeling “out of touch”
  • Staring into space
  • Complex symptoms may also include automatisms.  Automatisms are involuntary yet coordinated movements, which tend to be repetitive and purposeless. Common automatisms are chewing, lip-smacking, walking around, and fidgeting

Partial seizure with secondary generalization

With these type of seizures:

  • A partial seizure evolves into a generalized seizure
  • The seizure typically can be generalized or tonic-clonic

Around 70% of patients with partial seizures can have seizures controlled with proper medication. Seizures uncontrolled after the use of medication may require surgery.

Can You Get Disability for Epilepsy?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers epilepsy to be eligible for SSDI benefits. An individual who qualifies for epilepsy and whose disability is preventing them from working for an extended time can receive aid.

Epilepsy may not be disabling if it can be controlled. To establish their disability, patients will have to prove that epilepsy interferes with daily activities despite taking prescribed anticonvulsant medications for at least three months. In some cases, patients may have to prove that alcohol and drug use aren’t contributing to the medicine’s lack of effectiveness.

Epilepsy qualifies for disability only under specific circumstances. Adults with epilepsy may be entitled to an epilepsy disability allowance and receive benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates epilepsy according to its type, duration, frequency, and nature of seizures.  The specific criteria to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for epilepsy are complex and lengthy.

What are the medical-vocational guidelines to qualify for epilepsy?

While claiming SSI for epilepsy, your application may be reviewed by a medical examiner. The medical examiner will want to review several pieces of information, including:

  • Diagnosis
  • Description of the seizure (pre & post symptoms)
  • Medical records
  • Witness statements
  • Record mentioning the frequency of past seizures
  • EEG results
  • History of the treatment, including medications

To qualify under medical-vocational guidelines, you would also be required to provide documentation of:

  • Age
  • Education level
  • Transferable work proficiencies
  • Any other medical conditions
  • Any restrictions ordered by your medical professional

Generally, the chances to obtain SSDI epilepsy benefits increase if the applicant is older and has less education or skills.

Contact a disability attorney to seek legal assistance

If you have a disability that has lasted for 12 months or more, you may be able to receive aid. To determine if you may be eligible for disability, schedule a free consultation with us to discuss your concerns.

Common FAQs about epilepsy disability benefit claims