Is Parkinson’s A Disability?

Apr 25, 2024

According to federal and state laws in the United States, Parkinson’s is considered a disability.

However, “disability” is a broad term. It relates to both the physical and mental impacts of Parkinson’s disease, ranging from a person’s ability to perform basic daily activities like getting dressed to the impact on non-motor symptoms such as gut health issues.

Here’s how disability is defined as it relates to Parkinson’s disease and the symptoms impacting daily life for people living with Parkinson’s.

Defining Disability


In the United States, the concept of “disability” is primarily defined through legal and medical frameworks. These consider the impact of a disease or medical condition on a person’s ability to perform certain functions or activities.

ADA Definition of Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a pivotal piece of legislation providing a broad definition of disability.

According to the ADA, a person is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a history of such an impairment, or are perceived by others as having such an impairment.

The term “major life activities” includes, but is not limited to, walking, talking, seeing, hearing, and performing manual tasks.

More recent amendments to the ADA have expanded the definition to include primary bodily functions such as immune system function, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

This inclusive approach recognizes the broad spectrum of how diseases can impact an individual’s functioning and aims to accommodate a wide array of physical and mental impairments.

SSA Definition of Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers another perspective on disability through its criteria for Social Security disability benefits.

According to the SSA, a person is disabled if they cannot do the work they did before, they cannot adjust to other work because of their medical condition(s), and their disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This definition underscores the importance of the disability’s impact on employment and economic self-sufficiency. It illustrates how various systems in the U.S. aim to recognize and mitigate the effects of diseases as disabilities based on their interference with everyday life and work activities.

Disabling Symptoms of PD

Hand Tremor

While many people live long and functional lives with PD, there are symptoms of Parkinson’s, especially in the late stages of the disease, that can significantly impair a person’s ability to perform basic daily tasks.


One of the most characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is bradykinesia, or the slowness of movement.

This symptom manifests as a significant reduction in the speed and fluidity of physical actions. Individuals may find it challenging to start movements, and once started, the movements may be slow and require considerable effort.

This can severely affect daily activities such as dressing, cooking, or using utensils.

Bradykinesia combined with muscle stiffness (rigidity) further restricts mobility, contributing to the distinctive shuffling walk and reduced facial expressiveness commonly seen in Parkinson’s disease.


Tremor is another disabling symptom, typically presenting as a fine shaking that begins in one limb or hand, even at rest.

While the tremor may initially be mild and occur sporadically, it can become more persistent and severe as the disease progresses.

The tremor associated with Parkinson’s disease can make it challenging to perform precise tasks like writing or buttoning shirts, impacting a person’s ability to perform work or daily tasks independently.

Balance & Coordination

Additionally, Parkinson’s disease can lead to postural instability, which increases the risk of falls and injuries.

This symptom becomes more pronounced in the later stages of the disease as balance and coordination deteriorate. The fear of falling can lead individuals to restrict their physical activities, reducing their independence and quality of life.

Non-Motor Symptoms

Non-motor symptoms such as cognitive impairment, mood disorders, sleep disturbances, and autonomic dysfunction also contribute significantly to disability, affecting mental health and overall daily functioning.

As the disease advances, the combination of motor and non-motor symptoms increasingly impairs a person’s ability to live independently, often necessitating comprehensive care and support.

Disability Support for PD

Talking to an attorney

People with Parkinson’s disease may qualify for disability benefits if their condition significantly limits their ability to perform basic work activities or daily living tasks.

The determination of eligibility typically depends on the severity of symptoms, which must be well-documented through medical evidence and records.

In the United States, Parkinson’s disease is listed in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book under neurological disorders, which includes specific criteria that must be met for an individual to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

To apply for disability benefits, people with Parkinson’s should start by gathering all relevant medical documentation that outlines their diagnosis, treatment, and response to treatment, as well as detailed records showing how their symptoms affect their functional capacities.

The next step is to complete an application for SSDI or SSI, which can be done online, over the phone, or in person at a local Social Security office. It’s essential to provide thorough and accurate information to avoid delays in the processing of the application.

Often, the process involves a review of medical records, work history, and sometimes, a consultative examination to determine the impact of Parkinson’s on the applicant’s ability to work.

Applying for disability can be a long and difficult process for people with Parkinson’s. 

It’s not uncommon to be turned down and often requires several rounds of re-application before finally qualifying for disability. Don’t get discouraged in the process, and be proactive about reaching out for help if needed.

It may be beneficial to consult with a disability attorney or advocate who can help navigate the complexities of the application process and improve the chances of approval.

Improving Quality of Life with PD

Man stretching

While some symptoms of PD can have debilitating effects, many may be managed through a combination of exercise, diet, and medication.

Regular exercise, such as yoga or biking, can help improve symptoms and slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, while maintaining a diet full of healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables boosts brain function and improves digestion.

Work with a care provider to identify the best methods for symptom management and help mitigate the symptoms of PD that can impact the ability to perform daily activities.

Visit our blog page here for up-to-date information on a variety of Parkinson’s topics, including managing symptoms of PD, and our resources page for a comprehensive list of services, programs, and support groups for people living with Parkinson’s disease in our LA community and beyond!


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