There are different ways of defining disability. However, because Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, many people with the condition qualify for disability benefits and support.
Whether a person identifies as disabled is a personal choice. However, from a medical standpoint, Alzheimer’s is a disability because it significantly affects a person’s ability to carry out their usual tasks and, ultimately, to live independently.
This article explores whether Alzheimer’s is a disability, including from medical and legal perspectives. It will also explain if people with Alzheimer’s can get Social Security (SS) benefits, Medicaid, and tax credits.
Disability is a spectrum, rather than a clear-cut category. The term also has different meanings in different contexts.
In a medical context, disability refers to symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to do typical activities. In this sense, Alzheimer’s disease is a disability because, eventually, all people with the condition develop severe symptoms.
However, the term “disability” also has other definitions, such as:
- Legal definitions: These definitions dictate who can access disability benefits and support. They also determine who has protection from discrimination on the grounds of disability. Legal definitions of disability can vary significantly depending on a person’s location.
- Social definitions: This has more to do with how a person views themselves and their medical condition.
These definitions do not always match up. For example, a person with mild Alzheimer’s disease may identify as having a disability when their symptoms begin to impact their daily life, but they might not qualify for disability benefits until later on.
The Blue Book is a publication that lists physical and mental conditions that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers to be disabilities.
According to the SSA’s definition, a person has a disability if:
- they cannot do the work they did before
- they cannot adjust to other work due to their medical conditions
- they have had the disability or expect to have it for at least 1 year, or they expect it to result in their death
The SSA has two types of benefits programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
SSDI provides monthly payments to individuals who have worked for a certain length of time and have paid SS taxes. In contrast, SSI entails monthly payments based on financial needs.
Whether a person is eligible for these benefits, and how much they get, will depend on a variety of factors, such as:
- their age
- their income
- how long they have worked
- how much tax they have paid
People with early-onset Alzheimer’s may qualify for an SS program known as a special allowance. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is the diagnosis people receive if they are under 65, which accounts for approximately 5–10% of all people with the condition. Special allowance speeds up the processing of claims.
Alzheimer’s may count as a disability under Medicaid.
Medicaid is a program that pays for medical care and long-term care for individuals with a low income. Unlike SS, which is strictly a federal program, both federal and state governments fund Medicaid.
This means that a person with Alzheimer’s who is eligible for SSI may be eligible for Medicaid too, depending on their state of residence.
Those who are not eligible for SSI could still get Medicaid if their income and assets fall below the limits their state of residence has set.
If a person with Alzheimer’s still pays taxes, then yes, Alzheimer’s can be a disability that affects their tax returns.
Tax law is complex and varies from state to state, though. People with questions about this should contact an accountant with knowledge in this area.
People caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s may also be eligible for certain tax deductions and credits, such as:
- medical expense deductions for the taxpayer, their spouse, and any dependents if the costs are over 10% of their gross income
- child and dependent care credit, which covers up to 35% of caring expenses a person paid, so they could work or look for work
- deductions or credits for long-term care insurance, as the law considers the insurance premiums to be medical expenses
- additional caregiver tax credits, which vary by state
People can apply for disability support in the following ways:
People can apply for SS benefits online, in person at their local SS office, or via phone at 1-800-772-1213.
To apply, people will need to provide the following information:
- date and place of birth
- information about marriage, divorce, and children
- employer or self-employment details for the past 2 years
- banking account number for direct deposit
- doctors’ contact information
- the person’s medical history of Alzheimer’s and any other medical conditions
- job history
- education and training
Because the application process can be complex, it may help to contact an SS office or a lawyer who deals with these claims.
To apply for Medicaid, an individual should first check their state’s eligibility requirements on the Medicaid website. The next step involves creating an account and filling out an application, which people can do via paper, email, phone, or online.
The AARP Foundation has a Tax-Aide Program that provides free information and tax preparation for low- and middle-income taxpayers. It is not necessary to be an AARP member to take advantage of the service.
Anyone with questions about tax credits may also find the Internal Revenue Service’s help center useful.
People can get additional advice on disability benefits by contacting:
In its mild stages, Alzheimer’s disease may or may not be a disability. This can depend on the symptoms a person experiences, how they view their condition, and whether they meet any legal criteria for disability.
However, as Alzheimer’s progresses, it becomes a disability from both a medical and legal viewpoint. A person may be entitled to Social Security benefits, Medicaid, and other forms of financial support at varying points throughout the disease. Help is also available for caregivers, but this will vary by location.
The rules about these forms of support can be complex, so it may help to contact an SS office, dementia organization, or lawyer for help.