Patients who suffer from Huntington disease, also known as Huntington chorea and Huntington’s disease, experience a variety of symptoms that can initially be unsettling but manageable. Then eventually, they interfere with daily life and the ability to work. This inherited disease causes the progressive degeneration of the brain’s nerve cells due to a gene mutation.
When you’ve been diagnosed with HD, it’s possible you’ll qualify for disability from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Because the SSA lists HD as a neurological disorder in section 11.17 of its Blue Book, submitting a winning claim may be easier for this disease than for others. However, because filing for disability can be complicated and sometimes frustrating, it’s important to hire an experienced Social Security (SS) disability attorney to help you with your claim.
The symptoms of HD typically come on in stages. At each stage, patients tend to lose physical and cognitive skills they once had.
Here's a brief overview of the symptoms HD patients may experience:
When people begin to experience early signs of HD, their symptoms may include some of the following:
- Fidgeting, restlessness, and minor twitching in the toes and fingers
- Occasional clumsiness
- Minor changes in handwriting
- Small difficulties in managing daily activities such as driving
Physical signs of HD may not be the only symptoms. Ambiguous and indistinct emotional and intellectual changes may occur as well, including:
- Reduced ability to handle new situations or stay organized
- Small periods of depression, irritability, or indifference
- Moments of impulsiveness
- Short-term loss of memory
It’s important to note that just because a person feels depressed or can’t remember a name or number doesn’t mean he has HD. These symptoms can happen to anyone for any reason, and it doesn’t mean that the person has the mutated HD gene.
When HD patients move into the middle stage of their condition, they might lose the ability to work and drive entirely. It may become difficult, if not impossible, to manage a daily routine and perform household chores. Additionally, they may experience:
- Challenges when swallowing and eating
- Slurred speech
- Staggered walking
- More severe motor symptoms
At this point, patients are often still able to dress and care for themselves with some assistance. With the help of physical therapists, patients are still able to control body movements, and speech pathologists can help them with their speech and swallowing issues. Patients may also see an occupational therapist to help handle thought changes.
When patients reach the later stage of HD, they typically need assistance in all areas of their life. Because they're usually bedridden and unable to speak, they often need to be in a care facility because the progressiveness of the disease makes it difficult for family members to care for them.
Symptoms can include:
- Choking, as it becomes difficult for patients to swallow
- Inability to eat, which requires that many patients have a feeding tube
- Trouble sleeping
- Auditory and visual hallucinations in 3–11 percent of HD patients
Treatment for HD
Because HD is an incurable condition, medication and treatment focus on reducing the symptoms of the disease. Here's a brief look at the types of treatment for HD:
- Movement disorders. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008, tetrabenazine (xenazine) is used to reduce the jerky body movements—also known as chorea—associated with HD. However, this drug can trigger depression or make it worse. Other side effects include nausea and drowsiness. Other antipsychotic drugs, such as chlorpromazine and haloperidol, can also suppress the choreic movements and may be helpful in treating and managing chorea. However, they may increase muscle contractions and rigidity. Additionally, amantadine and clonazepam can help suppress chorea; however, if amantadine is used in high doses, it can cause skin discoloration and leg swelling.
- Psychiatric disorders. Antidepressants such as citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline may be helpful for HD patients experiencing depression. For individuals who experience mood disorders or psychosis or have violent outbursts, antipsychotic drugs may be used such as quetiapine and risperidone. And some patients may be given mood stabilizers.
- Speech therapy. Because HD interferes with muscle control of the throat and mouth, it’s often difficult for patients to speak, eat, and swallow. A speech therapist can help patients speak more clearly or provide communication devices to help with conversation.
- Physical therapy. Because balance and coordination can be challenging for HD patients, a physical therapist can show them exercises to improve their strength and flexibility, help them stay mobile as long as they can, and decrease the risk of falling. If a patient needs a wheelchair or other assistive device, a physical therapist can provide instruction for how to use it.
- Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can provide caregivers with information on appropriate assistive devices and strategies for patient care such as home handrails and helpful devices for eating and drinking.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you’ve been diagnosed with HD, you may qualify for SS disability benefits. However, an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet the SSA Blue Book Listing for this condition, or qualify for the Compassionate Allowance Program.
Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. We also handle disability claims for those whose applications have been denied and need help with the appeals process.