Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. This disorder occurs due to the loss of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter dopamine. The physical symptoms of Parkinson’s, which include tremors, stiffness and slowed movement, can be highly debilitating. However, as a Chicago Social Security lawyer can confirm, Parkinson’s doesn’t only cause physical effects. The disorder can also give rise to many debilitating mental changes.
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Cognitive impairment is a common symptom of Parkinson’s. Up to one-third of Parkinson’s patients suffer from mild cognitive impairment, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Between one-quarter and one-third of Parkinson’s patients develop dementia, which is a more marked decline in mental abilities.
Even when the cognitive changes associated with Parkinson’s are mild, they can have extensive effects on a person’s daily life. Victims of Parkinson’s disease may experience difficulty with all of the following tasks:
- Learning and recalling information — as many as two-thirds of people who suffer from Parkinson’s experience memory problems.
- Maintaining focus — Parkinson’s patients may have trouble concentrating, especially when background distractions exist.
- Carrying out executive functions — these functions include planning and completing actions while monitoring progress and anticipating challenges.
- Forming mental spatial images — this ability is essential during navigational tasks, such as driving.
Some of these cognitive effects arise due to decreases in dopamine that occur with Parkinson’s. However, the medication used to control Parkinson’s may also cause cognitive changes. The use of different medication may alleviate some of these issues.
Depression and anxiety are both clinical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. These mood disorders may develop due to changes in brain chemistry associated with Parkinson’s. As a Chicago Social Security lawyer knows, these disorders may have severely disabling effects. However, these conditions often remain undetected because their symptoms are similar to those of Parkinson’s.
Depression may cause symptoms such as fatigue, sadness, energy loss, sleep disturbances and pain. Like Parkinson’s, depression may also lead to apathetic behaviors and cognitive issues. Research suggests that depression and Parkinson’s interact adversely. According to the National Institutes of Health, people with both diseases often experience more severe symptoms, including motor problems and anxiety. Medication or other treatments for depression may reduce some of these effects.
Parkinson’s patients also may experience worry, anxiety or more severe disorders. Some patients may develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors. In severe cases, patients may even suffer from panic attacks. These conditions may worsen when medication for Parkinson’s is not effectively managing the disease.
The cognitive changes associated with Parkinson’s can also impede communication. Victims of Parkinson’s may have trouble recalling information or finding the correct words. Many Parkinson’s patients also experience slowed thinking and perception. As a result, they may have trouble expressing themselves clearly.
Understanding others may also prove challenging for people afflicted with Parkinson’s. These individuals may have trouble picking up on implications or emotional undertones. They also may struggle to keep up with conversations or follow the thread of group conversations. As a Chicago Social Security lawyer understands, these issues may significantly limit a person’s ability to interact in social settings.
Impulse control disorders prevent victims from turning down harmful impulses or temptations. These disorders affect an estimated 3 to 5 percent of Parkinson’s patients, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. An impulse control disorder may manifest through addictive behaviors, such as gambling or sexual activity. Victims of these disorders may also compulsively eat, shop or overuse their medications.
Impulse disorders may occur because dopaminergic medications can affect the brain’s reward system. Research has linked abnormalities with this system to impulse control issues. Patients who use stronger medications to manage Parkinson’s face a greater risk of developing impulse control problems. Changes in medication may help address these disorders.
People who suffer from Parkinson’s may also experience hallucinations. These are typically visual, though some patients experience auditory hallucinations. Usually, these disturbances are mild, and patients can identify them as hallucinations. In some cases, though, Parkinson’s patients may suffer from severe hallucinations, delusions or paranoia.
Parkinson’s disease may directly cause these symptoms, or other factors may be responsible. Problems that are common among older adults, such as stress, dehydration, sleep deprivation and urinary tract infections, may contribute. Medication may also cause hallucinations. Hyperactivity of the dopamine system may contribute to psychotic conditions, so medications to increase dopamine may produce psychotic symptoms.
Disability benefits available
Given all of these debilitating effects, victims of Parkinson’s may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. These benefits are available to people who cannot work due to disabling medical conditions. To qualify for benefits, Parkinson’s patients must meet earnings requirements, and they cannot engage in “substantial gainful activity.” In 2015, work with monthly income exceeding $1,090 represents SGA. If patients meet these criteria, they may be eligible for benefits, depending on the severity of the disorder.
Victims of Parkinson’s may qualify for SSD by meeting a listing in Social Security’s “Blue Book.” Conditions in this book are considered disabling if they meet set criteria. The book includes listings for Parkinsonian syndrome and some related mental illnesses and disorders, including depressive and anxiety disorders. To qualify under the Parkinsonian syndrome listing, victims must document rigidity, tremor or slowed movement in two extremities. These impairments must limit the victim’s ability to walk, perform fine tasks or make gross movements.
As a Chicago Social Security lawyer can attest, some Parkinson’s victims do not meet the Blue Book listing requirements. Fortunately, these individuals may qualify for medical-vocational allowances. Social Security awards an allowance if a person’s collective symptoms and impairments preclude gainful employment. Parkinson’s patients may qualify for allowances by documenting the full range of physical and cognitive symptoms that they suffer from.