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Getting Long-Term Disability (LTD) for Huntington’s Disease

A diagnosis of Huntington’s disease can entirely change your life, and you may be unsure how you will be able to support your family if you become unable to work.  Unfortunately, the process of applying for long-term disability (LTD) benefits can be challenging, and many claims are often wrongfully denied by the insurance company.

At Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD, our team of attorneys and professionals can help you navigate the difficult process of applying for long-term disability benefits and advocate against the insurance company on your behalf.  We have experience helping clients at both the initial claim level and the appeal stage and will work to get you the benefits you deserve.

Call us today at 401-331-6300 for a complimentary consultation.

What is Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s disease is a rare, inherited disease that causes the progressive breakdown of the nerve cells in the brain.  Huntington’s disease can have a broad impact on your functional abilities and usually results in physical, cognitive, and psychiatric disorders.  Although the symptoms of the disease can develop at any time in your life, they typically appear in people in their 30s or 40s.  If the disease develops before the age of 20 it is known as juvenile Huntington’s disease, and it may progress more quickly and with slightly different symptoms than Huntington’s disease.

Everyone has the gene that causes Huntington’s disease, but only those who inherit the expansion of the gene will develop the disease and potentially pass it on to each of their children.  Every person that inherits the expanded Huntington’s disease gene will eventually develop the disease, and over time it will affect the individual’s ability to reason, walk, and speak.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Huntington’s disease have been described as having ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, all at the same time.  These symptoms can vary greatly, and which symptoms appear first can vary from person to person.  Some symptoms may initially appear more dominant or have a greater effect on functional ability, but this can change throughout the course of the disease.

The symptoms of Huntington’s disease are typically divided into three major categories: movement, cognitive, and psychiatric disorders.  Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

Movement Disorders:

  • Involuntary jerking or writhing movements (chorea)
  • Muscle problems, such as rigidity or muscle contracture (dystonia)
  • Slow or abnormal eye movements
  • Impaired gait, posture, and balance
  • Difficulty with speech or swallowing

Cognitive disorders:

  • Difficulty organizing, prioritizing, or focusing on tasks
  • Lack of flexibility or the tendency to get stuck on a thought, behavior, or action (perseveration)
  • Lack of impulse control that can result in outbursts, acting without thinking, and sexual promiscuity
  • Lack of awareness of one’s own behaviors and abilities
  • Slowness in processing thoughts or ”finding” words
  • Difficulty in learning new information

Psychiatric disorders:

Depression is the most common type of psychiatric disorder associated with Huntington’s disease.  Researchers believe that this occurs because Huntington’s disease impacts the brain, subsequently affecting normal brain functions.  Symptoms of depression can include feelings of sadness or irritability, social withdrawal, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, and fatigue.  In addition, Huntington’s disease is often accompanied by obsessive-compulsive disorder, mania, or bipolar disorder.  Weight loss is also a common symptom of the disease, especially as it progresses.

How is Huntington’s Disease Diagnosed and Treated?

A preliminary diagnosis of Huntington’s disease is based primarily on your answers to questions, a general physical exam, a review of your family medical history, and neurological and psychiatric examinations.  The neurological exam will likely take place with a neurologist, who will ask questions and conduct simple tests to gauge your motor skills, sensory perception, and mood and mental status.

Huntington’s disease manifests as a triad of motor, cognitive, and psychiatric symptoms which begin slowly and progress over many years, until the ultimate death of the individual.  The average length of survival after clinical diagnosis is typically 10-20 years, but some people have lived thirty or forty years. Late-stage Huntington’s disease has been recorded as lasting up to a decade or more.

Sadly, Huntington’s disease is fatal and there is currently no known cure.  And although there are no treatments that can alter the course of the disease, some medications may be helpful in alleviating some of the symptoms of the movement and psychiatric disorders associated with Huntington’s disease.  Your doctor may prescribe medications to help suppress movement issues such as involuntary jerking or muscle rigidity (i.e. chorea or dystonia), or antidepressants and mood-stabilizers to manage symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder.

In addition, your doctor may recommend that you undergo a combination of speech, psycho, or physical therapy, depending on the severity of your condition.  The treatment of your disease will change as your symptoms worsen or new symptoms develop, so it is crucial that you maintain open and regular communication with your doctor every step of the way.

How Huntington’s Disease Can Impact Your Ability to Work

Huntington’s disease can severely impact your ability to perform the duties of your job reliably and consistently, if not completely prohibit you from working.  In the early stages of the disease, you may be able to continue working, albeit in a somewhat limited capacity.  For example, taking a medication to control involuntary movements may help you to function more normally at work, but it could also worsen your depression.  In this case, you would likely also have to take some form of antidepressant to combat the side effects of the first medication; however, common side effects of depression medication include nausea, drowsiness, and low blood pressure, all of which could impact your ability to remain productive or complete an 8-hour workday.  Additionally, the stress of coping with your disease could prevent you from concentrating on your job.

As the disease progresses and your motor and mental functions deteriorate more rapidly, it is unlikely that you will be able to continue working.  As your symptoms worsen, you may require more intensive treatment plans, more frequent doctor’s appointments, and even constant aid and care.

Let Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick Assist with Your Long-Term Disability Claim

At Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD, we understand how a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease can completely uproot your entire life.  We know the serious, scary nature of this illness and want to do everything possible to ease your burden and ensure that you and your family will have the necessary support.  Our team of knowledgeable attorneys and professionals is adept at dealing with frustrating insurance companies, and we have years of experience navigating the long-term disability claims process.

We work to submit strong medical and vocational evidence to the insurance company and, specifically at the appeal level, build the strongest case possible before heading to court.  In the case of an appeal, we will request and review the insurance company’s claim file, the plan governing documents, and the denial letter to develop an appeal strategy that demonstrates your inability to return to work.  As part of our strategy, we will gather supportive evidence such as your medical records, reports from your treating doctors, outside expert opinions, and witness statements from you and your family, friends, or co-workers.

We are dedicated to helping you fight for the long-term disability benefits to which you are entitled.  Contact us at 401-331-6300 for a free review of your claim to see if we may be able to assist you.