Narcolepsy is more than just a problem staying awake. Narcolepsy is actually a neurological disorder that causes extreme bouts of sleepiness that can't be controlled (or even predicted). People with the disorder can fall asleep while working, talking, or even eating. If you suffer from it, can you file for disability benefits? This is what you should know.
What Are The Symptoms Of Narcolepsy?
Narcoleptics actually suffer from a variety of sleep-related problems. Most narcoleptics don't actually get an appropriate amount of sleep, because their brain chemistry won't allow them to fall into natural sleep cycles. It's an incredibly frustrating illness, with additional symptoms that include:
- cataplexy, or a sudden loss of muscle control (during which the narcoleptic is conscious)
- hallucinations where the narcoleptic is "dreaming out loud"
- sleep paralysis, which is the sensation of being unable to move
- disturbed nighttime sleep and bouts of insomnia
- automatic behavior, like writing or cleaning, without consciousness of the action
There's no definitive test result that will "prove" the existence of narcolepsy, and it's thought to be vastly underdiagnosed. Sleep studies, which are performed in hospitals to monitor the quantity and quality of someone's sleep, can record the problem. If you have cataplexy, a diagnosis of narcolepsy can be made without a sleep study.
How Does Social Security Disability View Narcolepsy?
Social Security does consider narcolepsy to be a disability. While they aren't the same, narcolepsy is evaluated under Social Security Disability Code 11.03, like epilepsy. To qualify for benefits under this provision, you have to show that your narcolepsy occurs:
- at least once per week,
- you've had at least 3 months of treatment without success, and
- your ability to work, study, or perform day-to-day functions is impaired.
How Do You Provide Proof Of Your Limitations Due To Narcolepsy?
In order to give yourself the best opportunity to be approved for disability, you want to give Social Security the most information that you can about how your condition operates and how it disrupts your life.
When you visit your doctor's office you want to make sure that your doctor has a good description of the number of attacks you have during any given time period (whether you're talking within one 24 hour period or within a week), and how long those attacks last. You also want to make sure that your doctor knows that you've been following your prescribed treatment, including any lifestyle changes that the doctor recommends.
Since many treatments for narcolepsy involve medications, you need to make your doctor aware of the side effects caused by those medications. This can be an important part of your disability claim. If a medication is helpful, it may allow you to regain some control over your life, but the side effects can sometimes still be disruptive to the point that you can't work.
Social Security makes its decision based, in large part, on your residual functional capacity, which means your ability to handle the basic needs of life, including your ability to drive, shop, cook, bathe, dress yourself, and so on. Make sure that your doctor knows exactly how limiting your condition is! For example, make sure that your doctor notes that your condition is keeping you from driving, or if you require help getting to appointments on time because you can't keep a schedule. If it isn't safe for you to cook, make your doctor aware of how you are taking your meals and who is helping you.
In addition, if you've tried to work during this time period, make sure that your immediate supervisor is aware of your condition. Social Security may contact him or her to ask how your condition was while you were working. It's always helpful to have a letter from your boss stating that you were unable to keep working because you couldn't stay alert, and specifically how that affected the quality or safety of your work when you were there.
The key to a successful Social Security disability claim based on narcolepsy is usually consistent documentation by your doctor, your employer, and anyone else familiar with your condition. If you're having trouble getting approved for disability due to narcolepsy, contact a Social Security disability lawyer today to discuss how you can improve your claim.