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HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE

WHAT IS HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE?

Huntington’s disease is a rare genetic disease that causes the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. This neurological condition impacts your ability to sit, stand and walk. The condition results in the inability to control your physical movements and also results in severe mental symptoms, such as dementia, depression and anxiety.

Seven out of every 100,000 people worldwide have Huntington’s disease. The  symptoms can develop at any time, but they often first appear when people are in their 30s or 40s. If the condition develops before age 20, it’s called juvenile Huntington’s disease. When Huntington’s develops early, symptoms are different and the disease may progress faster.

Medications are available to help manage the symptoms of Huntington’s disease. But treatments can’t prevent the physical, mental and behavioral decline associated with the condition.

THE CAUSE OF HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE

Huntington’s disease is a genetic condition. It is caused by an inherited difference in one gene. You only need one copy of the nontypical gene to develop the condition. Since each person inherits two copies of every gene – one copy from your biological mother and father – one of the parents could pass the nontypical gene on to their child. In other words, to get the condition you do not need to have both your mother and father pass you the gene. Instead, if only one parent carries the gene, each child in the family has a 50% of inheriting the condition. Therefore, Huntington’s disease is an autosomal dominant disorder.

Of course, it is possible to develop Huntington’s disease without having a medical history of it in your family. However, this is simply because one of your parents carries the gene, but was never diagnosed with it.

Huntington's disease

THE TWO TYPES OF HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE

There are two forms of Huntington’s Disease”

  • Adult Onset Huntington Disease. This is the most common type of Huntington disease. Usually, people develop the symptoms of the disease between the ages of 30 and 40.
  • Early Onset Huntington Disease or Juvenile Huntington’s Disease. In rare cases, children or young adults can develop the disease. Children with the disease tend to experience sudden trouble with homework and classes at school because they cannot focus. They often have symptoms that are similar to Parkinson disease. Sadly, Juvenile Huntington’s disease results in death around 10 years after symptoms begin to show.

HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE STAGES

THE BEGINNING STAGE OF THE DISEASE

After Huntington’s disease starts, your ability to control your physical body gets worse over time. The rate of disease progression and duration varies. The time from the first symptoms to death is often about 10 to 30 years. During that time, there are various stages of the disease.

At first, a person with Huntington’s disease will start to have mild symptoms. Those symptoms are usually irritability, poor coordination, anxiety, and difficulty learning new things. The symptoms are mild enough that usually you might not notice them.  However, even though you might not notice the symptoms, the cells in your brain will become damaged as time goes on.

Symptoms at this stage include twitching of the face, fingers and toes. You will have trouble concentrating and depression. In addition to a loss of coordination, you will have trouble doing complex movements. Once these symptoms appear, you will be in the active stages of the illness.

It can take up to 8 years to pass from this stage to the next. However, during this stage, you will be to carry on with your activities of daily living, such as driving, chores, feeding yourself, bathing and dressing. During this stage, it is likely that you will be able to work, but you might need to work a reduced schedule with fewer hours.

THE INTERMEDIATE STAGE

Once you reach the intermediate stage of the illness, it is no longer possible to work. Also, the disease will make it so that you will need assistance with everyday tasks, such as walking and performing motor tasks. Due to involuntary movements and balance problems, you may fall. Additionally, during this stage your mental issues will increase. For example, you may have memory problems, mood swings, and deeper depression. This stage will usually go on for between five to sixteen years.

During this stage, you will begin to need advanced care, especially with regard to household chores and your finances. Your symptoms become more severe. For example, you might develop psychosis, severe cognitive problems, and apathy. Likewise, you may develop more severe physical problems with your ability to move. The problems with involuntary movements will get worse.

THE FINAL STAGE

During the final stage of the disease, you will require around the clock care. Usually, your Huntington’s symptoms will be so severe that you will be immobile and have trouble doing basic movements, such as swallowing. You will be unable to talk normally and be dependent on others for all daily activities. It is likely that you will be confined to bed. Although you may be able to understand what people are saying, it is possible that you will not recognize friends or family members

For obvious reasons, your depression may increase. During this time, the risk of suicide increases, mostly because people fear the loss of their freedom. Although depression is the most common psychiatric diagnosis for those with Huntington’s disease. A smaller number of patients display mania, mood swings, hyperactivity, decreased need for sleep, and grandiosity. Some authors have estimated an average rate of mania to be 4.8%, and others have found manic episodes in up to 10% of Huntington’s patients. Mendez M.F. Huntington’s disease: Update and review of neuropsychiatric aspectsInt. J. Psychiatry Med. 1994;24:189–208.

In the final stage of the illness, you may get an injury or infection. Unfortunately, this often ends the life of those with Huntington’s disease.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL SYMPTOMS FROM HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE

The movement disorders that are part of Huntington’s disease include involuntary and voluntary movement issues. For example, you may have involuntary jerking or twitching movements. This is known as chorea. Dystonia is also common. This is when your muscles contract and become rigid. As noted previously, you may be problems with balance and gait. Also, you may eventually have problems speaking and swallowing.

There are cognitive impairments that go along with Huntington’s disease. These include trouble getting organized and focusing on tasks. It is possible that you may lose the ability to control your impulses and you may say and do things you wouldn’t normally do. You may have trouble finding words when you speak. Additionally, you may have difficulty learning new information.

There are also psychiatric disorders that are part of Huntington’s disease. The most common mental symptom is depression. Learn more about depression here. The depression occurs because of the deterioration in the your brain cells. The symptoms may include irritability, sadness, and apathy. Additionally, you may withdraw socially from other people. You may also suffer from insomnia, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts.

The physical changes from Huntington’s disease are, as stated, rigid muscles that impair your ability to walk and balance. Involuntary movements, such as twitching or seizures. Eventually, the physical changes from the disease result in the inability to control your body.

THE SSA LISTING FOR HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE IS LISTING 11.17

Huntington’s disease is a severe, devastating condition that impacts your physical and mental health. If you file an application for SSDI and SSI benefits, then you will need to prove that you meet listing 11.17. In order to meet the listing, you will need to prove that you meet Part A and Part B of the following listing.

11.17 Neurodegenerative disorders of the central nervous system, such as Huntington’s disease, Friedreich’s ataxia, and spinocerebellar degeneration, characterized by A or B:

A. Disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities.

OR

B. Marked limitation in physical functioning, and in one of the following:

  1. Understanding, remembering, or applying information; or
  2. Interacting with others; or
  3. Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or
  4. Adapting or managing oneself.

If you do not meet this listing, it is still possible to be win benefits, but you will need to prove your residual functional capacity to the SSA.

YOU NEED MEDICAL RECORDS TO PROVE YOUR HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE

When you first apply for benefits, you should include a copy of your medical records with your application. These records should talk about your Huntington’s disease and the symptoms you are having. The burden of proving disability is one you. This is true even though Disability Determination Services (DDS), the state agency, collects your medical records.

The reason you should submit your own records is that DDS may not collect everything. For example, DDS will probably not collect old medical  records. However, these records are important to your case, because they confirm the beginning of your illness. They also show your diagnosis and may contain medical testing and a discussion of your symptoms.

If you receive a denial at any stage of the process, you should make sure the SSA has a copy of all of your medical records. You may receive a letter that states your doctor has not sent your records. The letter might only give 10 days to respond. Instead of worrying about the 10 day time frame, use your time to collect the records and get them into the SSA. Additionally, you must update all of your medical records prior to having a hearing before an SSA judge.

YOU CAN WIN BENEFITS BY PROVING YOUR HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE IMPACTS YOUR RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY

If you do not meet or equal listing 11.17, then the SSA will examine your residual functional capacity (RFC).

The RFC is the medical assessment of what you can physically and mentally do in a work setting, despite your Huntington’s disease symptoms. For example, if your symptoms give you fatigue, tremors, and seizures, then it is likely that you will miss work 4-5 days per month. Your inability to attend and complete a work week should be part of  your RFC, because it will prevent you from working any job, even a simple one.

In terms of physical limits, the SSA defines your ability to sit, stand, walk, and lift, during the course of an 8 hour workday based on your medical records. Find out more about how the SSA defines work here.

In order to figure out your physical RFC, the SSA will take into account what your doctor says in your medical records. Also, the SSA will review any statements from their doctors at the state agency. Likewise, if they need more information, they may send you to  a consultative examination. Learn more here about what to expect at SSA’s consultative exam.

The SSA will also consider descriptions about your symptoms from you and your family, neighbors and friends. This can be used as evidence for your case. Additionally, your family and friends can write statements about your symptoms. They can also write about how severe your symptoms are and how you are confined to bed. Find out more here about RFC and how it combines with age to eliminate work. Also, find out more about SSA’s Medical Vocational Guidelines here.

WHAT WE DO TO HELP YOU WIN BENEFITS 

You do not need to try to win benefits for Huntington’s disease by yourself. Cannon Disability Law can help file your disability application. Also, we can help you appeal every SSA denial. That way, you can focus on your health. For example, our attorneys and staff can:

  • Send you the paperwork you need to become our client
  • Help you file your application for SSD and SSI benefits
  • Inform the SSA that they should automatically pay your benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Rules
  • Request reconsideration if you receive an initial denial from Disability Determination Services
  • Help you confirm your attendance at a Consultative Examination
  • Request a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
  • Prepare you to be a good witness at your SSA hearing
  • Represent you at your hearing and question the vocational and medical witnesses.
  • Read more about vocational experts here
  • Learn more about medical expert testimony here
  • Request review of an unfavorable decision with the Appeals Council
  • Request review of an Appeals Council denial in Federal Court

If you file your application for benefits online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application. Once you submit your application online, the SSA sends you an application summary in the mail. You must sign the summary and mail it back. Send it in quickly.

WE WILL HELP YOU WIN BENEFITS

If you are suffering from Huntington’s disease, you may be wondering whether the Social Security Administration will approve your claim for SSD and SSI benefits. If so, call Cannon Disability. We are the only law firm helping SSD and SSI clients in Utah, Nevada and Idaho with over 30 years of experience. For instance, we are rated in the top three SSD lawyers in the state of Utah.

We are also rated in the top three SSD lawyers in the state of Nevada. Find out more about our Nevada legal experience here. We also help clients in many other states. We also have clients in Idaho, Colorado, and California. Idaho disability benefits information can be found here. Likewise, information about Colorado benefits is here. Finally, California benefits information is here. Wherever you live, we will help you get your SSDI benefits and fight for the benefits the SSA owes you under the law.

If you want to learn more about our lawyers, then read our About Us page. For instance, Andria Summers is an amazing advocate. She can also help you with your Medicare plan. Additionally, she has won thousands of SSD cases. Dianna Cannon has been helping SSD and SSI clients for thirty years. Brett Bunkall also has years of experience helping people obtain their benefits. We are experts. You can trust us to help you win your SSD and SSI benefits. Contact us today. Put our experience to work for you and we will help you win your benefits for Huntington’s disease.

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