Parkinson’s is a very serious progressive nervous system disorder. The symptoms can make continuing to work difficult, if not impossible. However, your Parkinson’s diagnosis alone won’t qualify you for long term disability benefits. Your claim must be supported by sufficient medical evidence and proof of appropriate treatment.
Below we’ll outline what Parkinson’s symptoms the insurance company will want evidence for, and steps you can take to improve your chances of approval for long term disability benefits.
How Will My Insurance Company Consider My Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms?
The symptoms of Parkinson’s can vary drastically in nature, severity, and frequency. Due to the somewhat unpredictable clinical presentation of Parkinson’s, just being diagnosed is not usually enough to receive long term disability benefits. Instead, the insurance company will look to see how your particular symptoms impact your ability to work.
The insurance company will assess your Parkinson’s by considering your:
- Motor functioning;
- Cognitive functioning;
- Other non-motor symptoms; and
Motor Functioning Difficulties
Parkinson’s can impair your motor function. The insurance company will consider how your motor deficits impact your ability to work. They will review your medical records for documentation of the following motor deficits and symptoms:
- Difficulty walking;
- Slow and shuffling gait;
- Bradykinesia (slowness in initiating body movements);
- Difficulty standing;
- Impaired balance;
- Dyskinesia (involuntary muscle movements);
- Stiffness and/or muscle rigidity;
- Difficulty commuting to work and/or traveling to work;
- Episodes of falling; and
- Postural instability.
Your long term disability insurer will look for clear evidence of your Parkinson's symptoms. You may run into problems if your doctor’s notes are incomplete, disorganized, or handwritten. Request that your doctor produce a clear and comprehensive list of your motor deficits for the insurance company to review.
Documentation from your neurologist is important to your long term disability insurer. They will want records explaining the severity and frequency of your motor deficits. For example, your medical records should explain whether your balance impairment is minor or severe. And your medical records should explain whether any impairment is continual or only appears during or after exertion.
Your long term disability insurer will also want your neurologist’s opinion as to how your motor symptoms impact your work functions. For example, say your medical records document tremors and you have a desk job. The insurance company will want your neurologist’s opinion as to whether you can type at a computer effectively.
Cognitive Functioning Difficulties
The insurance company will also consider how your Parkinson’s impacts your cognitive functioning. Common deficits and symptoms that the insurance company will look for include:
- Difficulty staying organized;
- Poor memory;
- Becoming easily distracted;
- Difficulty staying on task;
- Slowed processing of information;
- Becoming fatigued easily upon mental exertion;
- Feeling anxious and/or depressed;
- Decreased ability to deal with stress;
- Difficulty communicating;
- Word-searching and/or difficulty articulating thoughts;
- Difficulty problem solving.
Your long term disability insurer will require documentation from your medical providers regarding your cognitive and/or mental deficits. This documentation can come from your neurologist, neuropsychologist, psychiatrist, and/or psychologist. In general, documentation and thorough testing from a neuropsychologist is considered the strongest proof.
Another important piece of evidence for your claim is your doctors’ opinions on your cognitive and/or mental symptoms and their impact on your ability to work. Your long term disability insurer will want to see from your doctors how your symptoms prevent you from working. For example, your neuropsychologist may indicate that you process information too slowly to perform the complex analytical responsibilities of your job in a productive and efficient manner.
The insurance company will consider whether your Parkinson’s causes severe enough fatigue to prevent you from working. Documentation from your doctors can explain how your fatigue impacts your ability to:
- Perform the physical demands of your job on a sustained basis (i.e., typing constantly, traveling for work, sitting or standing for extended periods of time, etc.);
- Perform the cognitive demands of your job on a sustained basis (i.e., paying attention for prolonged periods of time, performing complex analytical thinking, applying technical knowledge accurately and efficiently, etc.);
- Complete a normal workday and/or workweek without an excessive number of rest breaks or absences.
It is important to note that the impact of fatigue is often difficult for the insurance companies to understand. The input of your medical providers on the subject will be key.
For example, you may be able to perform complex analytical thinking for short spans of time without difficulty. However, you may require a long rest break after a half hour due to fatigue. Your doctor may need to specify that you can only perform certain tasks for short periods of time followed by long rest breaks as needed.
Non-Motor Physical Symptoms
Any non-motor physical symptoms that you experience will also be considered by your insurance company. Many people with Parkinson's experience significant autonomic nervous system problems, visual symptoms, or other complications that can be independently disabling. These often include:
- Blurred vision;
- Double vision;
- Frequent urination or urinary incontinence;
- Orthostatic hypotension;
- Excessive salivation;
- Difficulty sleeping;
- Side-effects of medications.
Sufficient documentation as to the frequency, severity, and impact of these non-motor physical symptoms will be vital. For example, if you need to urinate very frequently, your doctor may need to specify that you require constant access to a restroom. Your doctor may need to note that your restroom time may interfere with your work productivity.
If you are experiencing any of these non-motor physical symptoms, the insurance company may also want to see evidence from an appropriate medical provider. That provider may not necessarily be your neurologist. For example, if you suffer from blurred vision, the insurance company may want to review visual acuity testing results from an eye specialist.
What Treatment Does My Long Term Disability Insurer Want to See?
The insurance company will require proof you are seeking appropriate treatment fоr уоur Parkinson’s. Even if your symptoms are stable, your long term disability insurer will want to see that you are regularly visiting your doctors and following their treatment recommendations.
Parkinson’s is treated most often with Levodopa (L-dopa), carbidopa, or a combination of the two called Sinemet. Your doctor may prescribe other medications that cause your body to make more dopamine. And your doctor may also prescribe medication that imitates the effects of dopamine or that stop your body from breaking down dopamine. Providing your long term disability insurer with proof of your prescribed medications is important. Your long term disability insurer will require that your doctor is regularly reviewing, and if needed, adjusting any medications you take.
Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist to improve your balance and ability to move. Physical therapy may also include muscle-strengthening exercises to help you speak or swallow. Your long term disability insurer will require that you keep consistent appointments with your physical therapists.
Other treatments may include deep brain stimulation, implants, or experimental treatments to spur the creation of dopamine. Again, your long term disability insurer will require that you are regularly visiting your doctors and that you are following their recommendations.
A Long Term Disability Attorney Can Help
If you are suffering from Parkinson’s and need to file a long term disability insurance claim, a specialized attorney can help. A long term disability attorney can advise you on leaving work protected, gather your medical records and evidence, and prepare the strongest claim possible to ensure your best chance of getting the long term disability insurance benefits you need.
Riemer Hess has been helping disabled professionals and executives successfully receive their benefits for over 25 years. Our disability lawyers will tackle your unique case with our proven strategy. We know how to bypass an insurance company’s roadblocks and protect your financial future.