Today marks a cause for celebration for all of us advocating for monetary relief for the younger end of the spectrum of Alzheimer's disease.
The Social Security Administration announced today that early-onset Alzheimer's disease, as well as another 37 other medical conditions, has been folded into the "Compassionate Allowances" category-meaning that it is now among the medical conditions that will clearly qualify and be given automatic approval for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits.
No longer will these individuals have to go through what was often a lengthy qualification process. Effective March 1, the waiting game is over, and, according to the agency's commissioner, "tens of thousands of Americans with devastating disabilities will now get approved for benefits in a matter of days rather than months and years."
Just look at who this change impacts. Early-onset Alzheimer's disease, also known as young onset, strikes people under age 65, even as young as in their 30's and 40's. This segment is normally in their prime earning years, and knee-deep in mortgage payments and saving for or putting their children through college. They imagined many more work days ahead.
But when individuals with early-onset Alzheimer's disease have to stop working due to cognitive loss, they not only face loss of a paycheck, they also are unable to gain Social Security because of their age. That's why it was so devastating when they had to go through a process that lasted months or years to collect disability benefits.
When a former sheet metal worker was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at age 36, his wife told me, "His diagnosis hit me like a freight train. I never saw it coming."
That particular family was in financial ruin-not to mention the emotional devastation that knocked them down.
The new fast-tracking of early-onset Alzheimer's disease should make a significant difference in quality of life for individuals facing this major life change. It helps them manage the immediate monetary crisis and move on-move on to other issues that are critical to managing this disease. More time can be spent obtaining effective treatment and pursuing mental, physical and social activities that may help slow progression of symptoms. More time can be spent mapping out their future care and end-of-life wishes. And more time can be spent taking advantage of support services for themselves and their families.
For a disease like Alzheimer's, where each minute or hour can steal more cognition, time is priceless. That's why today's announcement is cause for celebration.
Let the floodgates open!
Published On: February 11, 2010