Qualifying for Disability After 50 with Neuropathy

While not a disease in and of itself, peripheral neuropathy typically occurs as a result of another condition or injury, such as diabetes, that leads to damage to the peripheral nerves. Peripheral neuropathy and can cause pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the upper or lower extremities.

If you are living with peripheral neuropathy and it is so severe that it prevents you from earning a gainful living, you may be awarded Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

If you are over the age of 50, your chances of being approved for disability benefits are significantly higher than if you are younger. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that employment opportunities, as well as one’s ability to train for a new job, become increasingly limited as we age.

Further Reading: What Conditions Qualify For Disability?

Is Peripheral Neuropathy a Disability?

Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by diabetes, injuries, infections, or toxin exposure. The nerve damage causes weakness, numbness, and pain, most often in the feet and hands.

While the impact can vary greatly from one person to another, it can be severe enough to keep an individual from working and earning a living.

The SSA will first consider if your condition meets the criteria of a Blue Book listing, and if it does not, the GRID rules will be applied to determine eligibility.

Peripheral neuropathy can affect your daily activities, and if your feet are affected it can affect your ability to walk or stand. If your hands are affected, you may not be able to lift, grasp, or hold items as well as maneuver your hands and operate machinery or do fingering – or fine tasks involving the hands and fingers.

Peripheral neuropathy could cause tremors and weakness, making specific tasks impossible. If your hands experience weakness and tremors, you may not be able to file papers, write or take notes, or even use a keyboard or perform data entry tasks.

Even sedentary work, such as answering phones, data entry clerk, or watching security cameras could prove impossible.

You must provide supporting documentation and medical evidence to confirm the severity of your condition and show how you are affected in your daily activities as well as your ability to work. Without proof of your condition, your claim will not be approved. Medical evidence is essential to your claim.

Can You Get Disability For Neuropathy?

If you are unable to work because of neuropathy, you can be awarded disability benefits. You must be unable to work for at least 12 months and your condition must meet the Blue Book criteria. Peripheral neuropathy is listed in Section 11.14 of the Blue Book.

To medically qualify per the listing, your neuropathy must be characterized as one of the following and meet the applicable criteria –

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.


Marked limitation (see 11.00G2) in physical functioning (see 11.00G3a), and in one of the following:

  • Understanding, remembering, or applying information
  • Interacting with others
  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
  • Adapting or managing oneself

You must provide supporting medical evidence to support your claim and to confirm that your condition is severe enough to meet those criteria.

Qualifying For SSDI or SSI

The SSA administers two kinds of disability benefits – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While both have medical criteria that must be met, there are also other guidelines that you must meet.

To qualify for SSDI, you must have earned enough work credits to be covered by the program. In general, this means having earned 20 credits.

That is usually having worked the equivalent of 5 years full-time during the last 10 years. Of course, there are sometimes exceptions for age.

To qualify for SSI, specific financial criteria must be met. You must meet the income requirements and, also, have minimal resources available. You will need to provide proof of income and details about all your resources.

Further Reading: What Is SSI?

Grid Rules and Neuropathy

When evaluating your application, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will first determine if you meet the Blue Book listing for your peripheral neuropathy.

If your condition does not meet the listing, the SSA will then apply “grid rules” to assess your ability to work in your most current field of employment or to be trained for another job.

The Social Security grid takes into account your age, your level of education, your job history, and the skills that you have acquired over the last 15 years.

Using an evaluation called a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment, the SSA determines the highest level of employment that you are able to sustain, ranging from less than sedentary work all the way up to very heavy work.

The classification that you are given on your RFC determines which grid will be used to evaluate your work capacity.

Qualifying for Disability After 50 with Neuropathy

What Type of Work Can Someone with Neuropathy Do?

Neuropathy can affect your day-to-day life, as well as have a significant impact on your ability to work. Depending on the location of the particular nerves involved, you might have difficulty with several work-related functions.

For example, if your neuropathy affects the nerves in your legs or feet, you could have challenges performing a job that requires walking or standing. Working in a restaurant or as a retail associate may not be possible for someone with neuropathy.

Alternatively, some people with neuropathy have difficulty sitting for long periods of time and require frequent body position changes. Even performing a sedentary job, such as a phone customer service agent, might prove difficult.

Neuropathy can also cause tremors and weakness in an extremity, making specific work tasks difficult. For example, if you experience tremors or weakness in your hands, it might be hard to hold a pen, handle money, or file papers.

Further, most people with neuropathy have an underlying health condition that may impact one’s ability to perform work. According to the SSA’s grid rules, the older, less educated, and fewer transferable skills that you have acquired from past employment, the more likely you are to be found disabled. In other words, a 55-year-old nurse’s aide is more likely to be approved for benefits over a 35-year-old sales associate.

Is Neuropathy a Disability?

If you suffer from severe neuropathy, it could be disabling. While neuropathy is a generalized term, it refers to a variety of diseases that involve the peripheral nervous system. It can affect you from your hands to your feet, involving your entire body. Often it is called peripheral neuropathy, which involves all nerve pathways and nerves located outside the spinal cord and brain.

The symptoms of neuropathy vary greatly from one person to another, and the condition can have a gradual onset or a sudden onset. There are different ways to characterize neuropathy. It can be characterized by the kinds of nerves damaged, the location of the nerve damage within your body, and the disease process that caused your neuropathy.

Peripheral nerves come in three main kinds. Those include sensory nerves that control the senses, motor nerves controlling voluntary movement, and autonomic nerves that control involuntary movement. Mononeuropathy is nerve damage affecting one region of the body while polyneuropathy is damage that occurs in many areas. Symmetric neuropathy occurs in the same areas on both sides of the body.

Diabetes can cause neuropathy, and that is often called diabetic neuropathy. Idiopathic neuropathy has an unidentified cause. There are many underlying causes for neuropathy, such as inflammation, medications, vitamin deficiencies, metabolic disorders, and so forth.

Can You Get Disability Benefits for Nerve Damage?

There are many times when people suffer from nerve damage as a result of a condition that provokes it, and this damage can become so severe that it ultimately impacts their working ability.

If this is the situation you are in, meaning that you suffer from nerve damage and that has reached the point where it’s so severe that it’s preventing you from being able to work or continue to work, you might qualify to receive Social Security disability benefits.

Nerve damage can impact your working ability if you suffer the following symptoms:

  • sensitivity to touch;
  • paralysis;
  • pain when participating in activities that don’t normally cause pain;
  • numbness;
  • muscle weakness;
  • lack of ability to coordinate;
  • burning, sharp, jabbing pain and constant throbbing.

Nerve damage can be caused by any of the following:

  • a fall or collision which can pinch or tear a nerve;
  • repetitive motions, such as typing or moving boxes;
  • sustained exposure to heavy and toxic metals, such as mercury or lead or mercury;
  • a severe infection may cause nerve damage such as from Lyme disease, hepatitis B and C, or transverse myelitis, which can result from a vaccine or infection.

If you have been diagnosed with nerve damage, and you are unable to work for at least 12 months, you will need to provide medical evidence proving you are suffering from nerve damage if you wish to qualify for disability benefits. This includes your medical records, doctor’s notes and results of medical tests proving the diagnosis.

Meeting a Blue Book Listing for Neuropathy

The SSA maintains a medical guide to determine what kinds of conditions and criteria are needed to be approved for disability benefits. In this guide, known as the Blue Book, there are two sections, Section 9.08 and Section 11.14, both apply to peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a neurological disorder that is listed in section 11.14 of the Blue Book.

Section 9.08 is for neuropathy resulting from diabetes. To be approved, you must be diagnosed with diabetes and have neuropathy that involves tremors, ataxia, involuntary movement in two of your arms or legs causing you the inability to perform fine and gross motor movements and limiting standing and walking, or paralysis.

If you experienced difficulty with any of the following, you might meet a Blue Book Listing:

  • Tremors, paralysis, or extreme weakness in two extremities, such as both arms or an arm and a leg
  • Difficulty you may experience transitioning from a seated to a standing position
  • Trouble that you might have with walking or balance

If you don’t meet the criteria of a Blue Book listing, you can still qualify using a medical vocational allowance. Regardless of which listing you use, or which way you approach the claim, hard medical evidence is a necessity to be approved for disability benefits. Your records should contain physician notes, test results, lab reports, and exam notes.

The disability examiner must be able to review the details and get a thorough picture of your overall health. That way they can determine what you can and cannot do and decide if you are capable of working and earning a living. Most claims that are denied are because of a lack of supporting evidence, so make sure you gather all the evidence that you can and make sure that the SSA has access to those records.

The first step in getting your claim underway is preparing a detailed list of all your healthcare providers, their contact details and your dates of care from them. Your lawyer will make sure that all those offices release their records to the SSA.

Using an RFC Form

You should ask your treating physician to complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) form. This form is detailed and presents a clear picture of what you can and cannot do. As an example, it may indicate that you cannot walk without the help of a walker, or you may not be able to stand more than 30 minutes because of the numbness, tingling, and pain in your legs.

When Disability Determination Services reviews the RFC, they should be able to accurately and properly determine whether you qualify for disability benefits. Using a medical vocational allowance, the RFC is considered with other information pertaining to you and your situation. They will look at your medical issues, your symptoms, restrictions and limitations, age, educational background, work history, and transferrable skills.

If you have multiple conditions, they should all be noted and taken into consideration during your claim review process. As an example, if you have diabetes that is not controlled, you may be able to have your claim approved using that approach.

If you suffer from a heart condition or high blood pressure, you should indicate that and note all the symptoms and restrictions related to that condition. Then be sure to indicate how all your medical problems combined affect you and limit you.

Should I Discuss My Case with a Disability Lawyer or Advocate?

Peripheral neuropathy affects each individual differently. If you are over the age of 50, you may have a better chance of being approved for disability benefits through the use of the grid rules. However, the grid rules are very complex and are open to interpretation.

Hiring an experienced lawyer or disability advocate will significantly enhance your chances of having your application approved. A qualified Social Security attorney understands the grid rules and can help to craft your case in a way that will improve the likelihood that you will be awarded the disability benefits that you deserve.

Disability claims can be challenging. If you enlist the help of an attorney who handles disability claims, the chances of having your claim approved increase greatly. You are three times more likely to be approved for disability benefits if you are represented by an attorney. When you retain a lawyer, you will not have to pay anything upfront.

Disability lawyers take cases on a contingency basis, which means that your lawyer isn’t paid until your claim is approved and you receive back pay. At that time, your lawyer will receive 25 percent of your bac pay but no more than $6,000. Your lawyer will gather the supporting documentation and evidence and make sure everything is accessible by DDS for review.

You can retain a lawyer at any time during the claims process, so it is never too early or too late to enlist legal representation. If you are disabled because of neuropathy and you are filing for disability benefits, complete the Free Case Evaluation Form so you can share the details of your claim with a lawyer who represents clients in your area.

Additional Resources