How to Recognize Parkinson’s Disease and What to do About it

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A geriatric nurse did some great research and made a comprehensive infographic for Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month, check it out.

By Rebecca Evans

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, after only Alzheimer’s disease, and its effects can be debilitating.  Though the most well-known symptom of Parkinson’s are the tremors, the disease affects everyone afflicted with it differently, and many of the other symptoms can be far more debilitating.

While no one knows what causes Parkinson’s, we do know that it results in a die-off of the neurons responsible for dopamine production. Given that dopamine helps control movement, this results in issues with movement and more, it can as a result be an incredibly destructive disease, which results in a complete and total inability to work.

In particular, consider the four main symptoms of Parkinson’s:

  1. Tremors of the hands, arms, legs, or jaw;
  2. Rigidity, including stooped posture, reduced motion, and more;
  3. Reduced speed of movement;
  4. Difficulties with balance.

Each of those present their own difficulties to continued work, but even if they didn’t, just consider the following symptoms, which can also make working incredibly difficult: cognitive changes, fear or anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbances, dementia or confusion, constipation, urinary problems, and speech difficulties.

Even if these symptoms are minimal, and work is still possible, Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, meaning that over time those symptoms worsen, meaning that eventually work will become impossible, even if for the Parkinson’s patient this is not the case.

Fortunately, many Parkinson’s patients are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and other disability programs. There are a few key things to keep in mind, however, when looking at such programs.



As in any bureaucratic system, paperwork is key for most disability applications. It is important that you keep any and all applicable records of your employment history, insurance paperwork, relevant exchanges and information from government agencies, as well as any paperwork from any advocates who may be working on your behalf. It’s also important to keep copies of any exchanges with any disability programs.



Additionally, note that every disability program has different eligibility requirements.

For instance, SSDI is for people under the age of 65 who have worked and paid FICA taxes. For Parkinson’s individuals, for instance, an applicant would also need to show that they are unable to perform any job and that the disease is expected to last continuously for at least 12 months. (Given that Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease with no cure, this last criteria will never be a problem for an applicant.)


Five-step process

Additionally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a five-step process as part of their application:

1.Determine how substantial your current gainful activity is. Earning more than a certain amount can be grounds for automatic disqualification.

2.Determine if your symptoms are severe enough to keep you from even basic work activities. For Parkinson’s sufferers, this refers specifically to how well they can perform basic tasks such as walking, standing, lifting, communicating, and other basic work function.s

3.Determine if you have significant impairment. For Parkinson’s sufferers, this would result in looking for significant rigidity, bradykinesia, or tremor in two extremities or more severe enough to result in gross disturbance of dexterity, gait, or station.

4.Determine your ability to do work you have done in the past. This is despite the diagnosis. If the SSA finds you can still do work you have done previously, your claim will be denied. If, however, you no longer can do any of the work you have done previously, the claim continues to the final step.

5. Determine if there may be other work you may do. In particular, the SSA evaluates your age, education, work experience, and current physical and mental condition to determine if you may be able to do other work. Specifically, they use medical-vocational rules that are age-dependent to determine if your Parkinson’s constitutes a disease disability.

More info at

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