Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: Is CTE A Disability?

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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: Is CTE A Disability?

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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has recently become a major topic of concern, especially among former athletes and military personnel. This brain condition, resulting from repeated head injuries, raises significant questions about long-term disability. The answer is yes, CTE can be considered a disability, especially when it significantly limits a person’s ability to perform daily activities and maintain employment.

Understanding CTE

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a complex and evolving brain disease primarily associated with repeated head traumas, such as those experienced in contact sports, military service, or through repeated concussions. Unlike other brain injuries that result in immediate symptoms, the effects of CTE often don’t appear until years or even decades later. This delayed onset significantly complicates the diagnosis and treatment process.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy CTE

The development of CTE is believed to be related to repeated blows to the head that lead to brain changes over time. These changes can gradually impair a person’s cognitive functions, mood, and physical abilities. Unfortunately, because CTE symptoms usually appear long after the head injuries have occurred, linking them directly to past traumas can be challenging.

Symptoms of CTE:

  • Mood Swings and Emotional Changes: Individuals with CTE may experience significant mood swings. They can quickly go from feeling fine to experiencing intense feelings of sadness or irritability. Depression is also a common symptom, profoundly affecting a person’s daily life.
  • Memory Loss: Progressive memory loss is a hallmark of CTE. This isn’t just simple forgetfulness; it can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities and personal relationships.
  • Migraines and Headaches: Frequent, debilitating migraines or headaches are common in people with CTE. These can be severe and hinder their ability to function normally.

CTE Diagnosis Challenges

Diagnosing CTE poses unique challenges:

  • Posthumous Confirmation: Currently, a definitive diagnosis of CTE can only be made through a brain autopsy after death. This is done by examining the brain tissue for specific pathological markers of the disease.
  • Symptom Documentation: For those living with potential CTE, accurate and detailed documentation of symptoms is vital. This includes:
    • Recording Changes in Behavior and Mood: Keeping a log of mood changes, periods of depression, or instances of unexplained irritability can be helpful.
    • Tracking Cognitive Decline: Noting instances of memory loss, confusion, or difficulty in making decisions or solving problems.
    • Physical Symptoms: Document the frequency and severity of headaches or migraines, as well as any issues with coordination or motor skills.
    • Differential Diagnosis: Since CTE shares symptoms with other neurological conditions, healthcare professionals must rule out other potential causes of symptoms. This involves a thorough medical history, neurological exams, and sometimes, brain imaging tests.

Living with CTE can be challenging not just for the affected individuals but also for their families and caregivers. The gradual progression of the disease means that the person’s abilities and behavior can change over time, often requiring increased care and support.

For those considering a disability claim due to CTE, detailed medical evidence and symptom documentation are crucial. This includes medical records, notes from healthcare providers, and personal diaries or logs that track the progression of symptoms over time. These records provide valuable information for healthcare providers and are essential in the disability claim process.

CTE vs. TBI: Understanding the Differences

When we talk about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), we’re looking at two different kinds of brain conditions. They might sound similar, but they’re pretty different in how they happen, their symptoms, and what they mean for the person who has them.

How They Start:

TBI: This kind of injury usually happens because of a specific event. Think of a fall, a car crash, or maybe a hit during a sports game. You’d know pretty soon after it happens because you might feel dizzy, have a headache, or even forget things. Doctors can often see these injuries on a brain scan right away.

CTE: This one is trickier. It doesn’t come from just one hit to the head. Instead, it builds up over time from many smaller head injuries. Sometimes, these might be so small you don’t even know they’re hurting your brain. CTE takes a long time to show up, often years or even decades.
Symptoms: What You Might Feel:

  • TBI Symptoms: If someone has a TBI, they might feel confused, have headaches, feel dizzy, or even pass out. These symptoms are pretty strong but can get better with time and the right medical help.
  • CTE Symptoms: With CTE, the changes in how you feel and act can sneak up on you. It might start with mood changes or getting irritated easily. Over time, it can get worse, like having trouble remembering things or changes in how you behave. Sadly, these symptoms don’t get better over time and can lead to big problems with thinking and emotions, which could look a lot like dementia.

How They Change Over Time:

  • TBI Over Time: TBIs can be different for everyone. Some can be mild and lead to a quick recovery. Others might be more serious. With the right treatment and care, many people can recover and get back to their daily lives with accommodation.
  • CTE Over Time: CTE is a long-term problem. Once it starts, it doesn’t stop or get better. As time goes on, it can affect how someone thinks, feels, and acts. This can be hard for the person and their family, as they might see big changes in their personality and abilities.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and Social Security Disability

Pursuing social security disability benefits can be challenging for several conditions, including CTE. The process is not only grueling due to the long wait times but also due to the specific evidence needed to provide your inability to work and the limits to your ability to function during substantial tasks.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has specific eligibility requirements for considering CTE as a disability.

Evaluation Timeline:

The SSA requires evidence of the condition’s impact over time, often waiting 3 to 6 months post-TBI to fully understand the long-term effects on motor and mental functions.

Disability Criteria:

It’s crucial to demonstrate significant motor dysfunction and mental impairment. This might include severe coordination problems, muscle weakness, and difficulty with memory and concentration.

Required Documentation:

Medical evidence is vital, especially for SSDI if you don’t have the ability to work. This includes not just immediate post-injury records but also ongoing medical evaluations, treatment records, and imaging studies that document the progression of symptoms over time.

Mental Disorders Assessment:

The SSA assesses how brain injuries affect mental health as well as a person’s motor functions. Symptoms like persistent mood swings, depression, and cognitive issues are evaluated to understand their impact on daily functioning.

Eligibility for a Disability Claim

To establish eligibility for a disability claim, you need to first understand the definition of your disability according to the Social Security Administration.

Disability Definition:

The condition must be severe enough to significantly restrict the ability to perform basic work activities, like walking, remembering tasks, and following instructions.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC):

The RFC assessment is critical, especially if CTE symptoms don’t align neatly with SSA’s listed criteria. It evaluates what an individual can still do despite their impairments.

Medical-Vocational Allowance:

This allowance is particularly relevant for those with milder forms of CTE. It takes into account age, education, and work history to determine if other types of work are feasible.

The Role of a Disability Lawyer

Navigating CTE claims can be complex, making the role of a disability lawyer crucial:

  • They help interpret and navigate the SSA’s Blue Book, ensuring all relevant criteria are addressed.
  • They assist in collecting and presenting comprehensive medical evidence that accurately reflects the individual’s condition.
  • They guide clients through the SSA’s evaluation process, ensuring all aspects of the disability are considered.

Diagnostic Tests and Mental Disorders Evaluation

Evaluating CTE involves:

  • Diagnostic Tools: Advanced imaging techniques like CT scans and MRIs are used, along with neuropsychological assessments, to track cognitive decline and brain changes.
  • Mental Disorder Evaluation: It’s vital to monitor and document changes in mood, behavior, and cognitive function, as these are key indicators of CTE’s progression.

Support From A Disability Lawyer You Can Count On

Grundy Disability Group offers tailored support in managing CTE disability insurance and income claims.

If you or someone you know is dealing with CTE and considering a disability claim, getting legal guidance is vital. Grundy Disability Group is well-equipped to handle the complexities of CTE cases. Contact our team now to schedule your free consultation.

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