Did you know that nervous systems disorders like Parkinson’s disease are a leading cause of long-term disability claims?
Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year, and this estimation does not include the thousands of cases that go undetected.
Over time, this disease is known to make daily living – and working – difficult, leading many to seek long-term disability insurance benefits.
Here are facts and tips to consider before filing a LTD insurance claim for Parkinson’s disease.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative nervous system disorder caused by abnormally low levels of dopamine in the brain.
The term “Parkinson’s disease” was coined in 1865 by William Sanders and later popularized by neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. However, its history extends back to 1817, when apothecary James Parkinson published an essay on the condition, known at that time as shaking palsy.
While no two people experience Parkinson’s the same way, there are common signs and symptoms that can result from these dopamine deficiencies. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, the signs of Parkinson’s include:
- Uncontrollable shaking or tremors
- Small and/or shaky handwriting, or significant changes in your handwriting
- Trouble walking or moving because of muscle stiffness
- Loss of smell
- Loss of voluntary movement
- An uncharacteristically soft, low or hoarse voice
- Trouble sleeping
- Dizziness of fainting
- Impaired posture, causing stooping or hunching over
- Impaired balance
- Masked face, such as a continuously serious, depressed or mad expression
- Loss of automated movements, such as blinking or smiling
Parkinson’s as a disability
There is no standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease, which currently does not have a cure. The course of treatment often varies based on your specific symptoms, but common forms include medication, surgical therapy, lifestyle modifications or a combination of the three.
Although Parkinson’s is treatable, it is still a progressive disease. Symptoms that may appear mild at first can worse over time, and may become debilitating or totally disabling.
Many physicians use a five-stage rating scale called the Hoehn and Yahr Staging of Parkinson’s disease to determine how far the disease has progressed:
- Stage one: Mild symptoms affect one side of the body
- Stage two: Symptoms affect both sides of the body. Changes in posture and gait occur.
- Stage three: Body movements are slow; balance is impaired.
- Stage four: Symptoms are severe and disabling. Muscles become rigid and walking is limited. The patient is no longer able to live independently.
- Stage five: The patient needs constant care, and is wheelchair-bound or bedridden.
Everyday Health also reports that up to one-third of people living with this disease develop dementia, which may cause problems with memory, attention span, and executive function – the process of making decisions, organizing, managing time, and setting priorities.
Many claimants seek disability benefits for Parkinson’s as their symptoms worsen and render them unable to work.
The challenges of proving disability
When you file a long-term disability insurance claim – regardless of your illness or condition – it is essential to bolster your claim with as much objective medical evidence as possible.
However, this is particularly true when you have Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, there is no definitive test for Parkinson’s, which can make it very difficult to diagnose, especially in the early stages of the disease.
The more documentation you have to support your assertion of disability, the stronger your case should be. Such evidence could include records of your symptoms, neuroimaging tests confirming your diagnosis, medication and treatments history, doctor visits, time taken off work because of your disability, and a detailed description of your pre-disability occupational duties.
For example, you should how much difficulty you have with balance, walking, standing or getting to places, and how this makes it difficult for you to carry on with everyday tasks and work-related duties.
If you experience tremors, involuntary movements or stiffness, do not forget to include details of how these symptoms make it challenging to work. Do you struggle to write or type, or handle work-related tools? If so, make sure your doctor notes these motor impairments and their effect on your working ability in your medical records.
If Parkinson’s impacts your cognitive abilities, know that insurance companies might assert these symptoms are subjective if you have not had any neuropsychological testing to provide an objective basis of these issues.
It may is also imperative to include information about any side effects from medications or treatment you are receiving.
Some Parkinson’s patients may experience side effects ranging from blurred or double vision and drowsiness to intellectual difficulties like issues with memory, communication, information processing, and planning and organization. Medications may also cause emotional issues like depression, anxiety and stress.
All evidence should be as thorough as possible and include dates and descriptions.
Common reasons for claim denials
Insurance companies often find reasons to deny long-term disability insurance claims for Parkinson’s disease, even those with strong medical evidence.
For example, insurers may try to assert that benefits are limited under the subjective limitation clause. Symptoms such as tremors, impaired movement and balance, and speech changes may be disabling, but insurers often dispute their objective impact on your daily life and ability to work.
The unpredictable progression of Parkinson’s and its symptoms are often disputed as well. The insurance carrier may argue that you have worked with these conditions for several years without issue, and nothing has changed. In this case, it is vital to ensure your medical records properly document the progression of your symptoms.
Insurers may also use the above argument if your symptoms are intermittent. In this case, it is key to produce support that while you may not experience constant symptoms, they are severe enough to impair your ability to work.
Do you have disability claim questions?
If you have filed or are preparing to file a long-term disability insurance claim for Parkinson’s disease – or if your benefits have been wrongfully denied – contact DarrasLaw’s top-rated, long-term disability attorneys for a free consultation.
If you have individual or long-term disability insurance questions, our legal team is here to help.