When patients are diagnosed with ataxia, they're suffering from a rare degenerative, neurological condition that affects the body’s nervous system. The word ataxia is Greek in origin and means “a taxis”—without order or incoordination.

Patients with ataxia have difficulty with coordination because the part of the brain that controls balance and movement—the cerebellum—is impacted by this condition. Those who develop ataxia may appear to be intoxicated or drunk because they exhibit the similar symptoms such as slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, and stumbling or falling.

ataxia_diagnosisCertain types of ataxia are eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Friedreich’s ataxia and spinocerebellar ataxia are identified in the Blue Book listing of impairments, section 11.17, and three types of ataxia are cited for the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance Program that expedites severe, terminal illnesses. How ever many times Social Security fails to properly evaluate  your claim and it’s s helpful to hire an experienced a Social Security (SS) disability attorney .

Three Types of Ataxia

There are between 50 and 100 types of ataxia, and they’re categorized under three umbrella headings:

  • Acquired ataxia. Patients who have this condition see their symptoms develop quickly. Often, this type of ataxia is caused by a brain injury, a stroke, or some other condition that impacts the brain areas that manage coordination, balance, and movement.
  • Hereditary ataxia. This type is inherited genetically and runs in families. Patients may see their symptoms develop at a slow pace over a period of years.
  • Idiopathic late onset Cerebellar ataxia (ILOA). The cerebellum in patients who suffer this type of ataxia is progressively damaged, but the cause is not known. This damage leads to ataxia.

Symptoms of Ataxia

Patients with ataxia suffer a variety of symptoms, and they vary depending on how severe the condition is. If the ataxia develops because of a head injury or some other type of medical issue, patient symptoms can present soon after, might improve quickly, and could eventually resolve.

Initially, ataxia symptoms often include slow and/or slurred speech—known as dysarthria. A patient may have problems controlling the pitch, rhythm, and volume of his voice. Another early symptom is poor coordination of limbs.

When the ataxia progresses, a patient is likely to experience other types of symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty swallowing, which sometimes leads to coughing or choking
  • Involuntary shaking or trembling, and tremors
  • Repetitive eye movements that are involuntary and rapid—known as nystagmus, these movements can be circular, horizontal, or vertical
  • Depression
  • Issues with balance and walking—sometimes a patient needs a wheelchair
  • Vision and hearing problems

Additionally, patients who suffer from ataxia telangiectasia (AT) often experience red, spider-like veins in the corners of the eyes, on the cheeks, and on the ears. And those who suffer from Friedreich’s ataxia may experience scoliosis—curvature of the spine; diabetes; pes cavus—high arching feet; and cardiomyopathy.

Treating Ataxia 

The treatment plan for ataxia varies depending on the type of condition a patient has. Sometimes, it’s possible for doctors to treat the cause of the ataxia so it stops getting worse and even improves. This is often seen in cases when chicken pox or viral infections are the cause. However, more often, treatment is provided to ease a patient’s symptoms.

You’ll likely work with a team of doctors to develop an individualized treatment plan. This team may include a physiotherapist, a neurologist, and a specialist nurse. Together, you’ll discuss your psychological, social, and physical needs and define a plan to meet them.

In treating your symptoms, you may meet with a language and speech therapist to help with slurred speech and dysphagia, or swallowing problems. You may also see an occupational therapist (OT) who will assist you in managing the loss of mobility and learning new skills to help you perform your daily routine. If you need to use a wheelchair, the OT will teach you how to use this device to stay mobile. Additionally, a physiotherapist can teach you exercises to stretch your muscles and help them from weakening or getting stuck in a certain position. Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers to control muscle cramps, spasms, and stiffness.

Contact Cuddigan Law

If you’ve been diagnosed with ataxia, you may qualify for Social Security (SS) disability benefits. Hiring an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet the 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  or appeal to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. 


Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience