Epilepsy, Seizure Disorders, and Social Security Disability Benefits


What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A seizure occurs when there is a sudden, abnormal surge of electrical activity in the brain.

This surge can cause a variety of symptoms depending on the part of the brain affected, including:

  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Changes in sensation, emotion, and behavior.

Epilepsy can develop at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and in older adults.

The disorder can have a wide range of causes, including:

  • genetic factors
  • some infections
  • developmental disorders
  • brain damage from injury or disease

In many cases, however, the underlying cause is unknown.

How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of epilepsy typically involves a detailed medical history, a physical exam, and diagnostic tests.

Testing includes:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures brain activity
  • Brain imaging studies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans

Epilepsy and Social Security

To receive benefits, you must undergo evaluation by the Social Security Administration. First, the organization determines whether the claimant meets the “Blue Book” definition or the “Listing” for epilepsy. This standard appears in the Blue Book at Listing 11.02.

The Listing considers the different types of seizure disorders in different ways:

  • Tonic-Clonic Seizures: also known as “convulsive” or “grand mal” seizures
    Tonic-clonic seizures are a type of generalized seizure that affects the entire brain, and they are the most common type of seizure.

    These seizures can occur in people with epilepsy or as a result of other conditions. Head injuries, brain infections, or brain tumors can cause tonic-clonic seizures.

    When someone experiences an episode, they lose consciousness and fall to the ground. The seizure has two stages: the tonic phase and the clonic phase.

    During the tonic phase, the person's muscles stiffen, and they may stop breathing, causing their face to turn blue. This phase typically lasts for about 10 to 20 seconds.

    During the clonic phase, the person's muscles begin to jerk and twitch uncontrollably, and they may foam at the mouth or bite their tongue. This phase typically lasts for about 30 to 60 seconds.

    After the seizure is over, the person may feel confused, tired, and have no memory of the episode. In some cases, they may have a headache, muscle soreness, or other physical symptoms.

    To meet the listing, the Social Security Administration requires that the claimant suffer at least one tonic-clonic seizure per month for at least three months despite prescribed treatment.
  • Dyscognitive Seizures: Also known as “complex partial seizures” or “focal impaired awareness seizures
    These seizures originate in a specific area of the brain, and they can affect a person's consciousness or awareness.

    During a dyscognitive seizure, a person may experience a variety of symptoms, including staring, confusion, and unresponsiveness. They may also display repetitive, purposeless movements such as lip smacking or hand fumbling. The person may not be aware of their surroundings or may have a distorted sense of reality, feeling as if they are detached from reality.

    Dyscognitive seizures can be caused by a variety of factors, including structural abnormalities in the brain, head injury, infection, or genetic factors. They can also be a symptom of epilepsy.

    To meet the listing, the Social Security Administration requires that the claimant suffer at least one dyscognitive seizure per week for at least three months despite prescribed treatment.

Social Security and Other Seizure Disorders

Claimants can also meet a listing by showing have a seizure disorder. Such disorders must have one or more “marked” limitations to work-related activities.

Qualifying impairments to work-related activities include:

  • physical functioning
  • interacting with others
  • concentrating on work tasks
  • understanding or remembering information
  • lifting, walking, standing, or using fingers or hands for repetitive actions

Even if a person cannot meet a Listing, the Social Security Administration must still consider how the seizure disorder affects a claimant’s ability to work. The Social Security Administration also considers whether the seizure disorder would cause a claimant to be absent from work frequently or be excessively off task while present.

There is a “Social Security Ruling” (a policy statement from the SSA) which addresses how the Social Security Administration makes this determination. The most important evidence to help a case is a statement from treating medical provider(s) which includes their opinion on your ability to work.

Nolan & Shafer PLC is dedicated to helping people receive their necessary Social Security Disability benefits. If you don’t know where to start, or you are having trouble getting the help you need, contact us online for a free consultation. You may also call our office at (231) 403-0040.

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