Some conditions can be completely disabling or even fatal, and spinocerebellar ataxia is one disease that can cause severe inabilities to function for a long time before the person ultimately succumbs to the disease. Symptoms like incoordination of hands, speech, gait, and eye movements can make it difficult to impossible for some people to continue working. Anyone who has already been diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia should know what they need to do to qualify for benefits from the Social Security Administration so that they can continue to pay their bills. Knowing some of the symptoms and available treatments can also help someone along with their journey after finding out that they have this disorder.
What is Spinocerebellar Ataxia?
Spinocerebellar ataxia is a degenerative, progressive, genetic disorder in which the spinal cord and cerebellum degenerate over a years-long period of time. This is a genetic disorder that can be inherited by a dominant gene. This means that someone with a parent who has this disorder has a 50% chance of also inheriting it. In fact, some people don’t even know that they have the disorder until they begin having problems with their coordination and have a doctor look at their symptoms and diagnose them.
Most people with spinocerebellar ataxia live between 10 and 20 years after they first start noticing symptoms, and symptoms most often present themselves in a person’s early adult years, adolescence, or childhood.
The exact cause of this disorder isn’t completely understood, but basically, the genes mutate, which is what causes the ataxia. There’s a string of genes on the DNA that’s supposed to repeat between 4 and 39 times. But people with spinocerebellar ataxia have these genes repeated anywhere between 40 and 80 times, and the more often they’re repeated, the earlier symptoms present themselves.
This disorder is somewhat heritable as a dominant gene, meaning that people who have at least one parent with the disorder will have it, too. But there are people who have the disorder whose parents don’t have it. Most often, this happens when one parent has the gene sequence repeated in the 35 to 39 range, which makes it more likely that they’ll pass it along to their children but not necessarily have the symptoms themselves.
Symptoms of Spinocerebellar Ataxia
There are several types of spinocerebellar ataxia, and they’re all somewhat similar, so it can be difficult to distinguish the difference. There are, however, several symptoms that people with this type of disorder often experience, and the age of onset can vary depending on the type.
One of the most common symptoms is difficulties with coordination and balance, which is the meaning of the word ataxia. More specifically, uncoordinated walk and poor hand eye coordination is likely to be present in people with spinocerebellar ataxia. Some other common signs include abnormal speech and vision problems. Involuntary, quick eye movements occur in some people because the muscles weaken, resulting in an inability to control the movements. Some people will also have difficulties learning, remembering, and processing information. Difficulties with swallowing and eating are also common.
As the disease progresses, it’s more likely that a person will begin to notice muscle atrophy, and they might even develop sensory neuropathy, including feeling of tingling, pain, or numbness in the legs and arms. In cases where the disease has progressed significantly, some people will also experience tremors, involuntary jerking, and rigidity, but these symptoms are fairly uncommon.
Treatment for Spinocerebellar Ataxia
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for spinocerebellar ataxia, but there are some ways to treat the symptoms. That’s why a variety of treatments might be used that will be based on the symptoms. The general prognosis on life expectancy, however, cannot be changed with treatments, which will only make the symptoms more bearable to live with.
Because ataxia is one of the most common symptoms, physical therapy is often used to strengthen muscles, which will also help with coordination. The exercises will likely focus on ways to strengthen the muscles in the legs and arms. Additionally, some people might need walking devices, such as canes and walkers, to help with mobility. Some people might even need to switch to a wheelchair to get around if their symptoms have progressed past the point where a walker or cane is sufficient.
Additionally, there are people who have a wide range of other types of symptoms. For instance, some people might need medications and other types of therapy for muscle stiffness, tremors, muscle spasms, and sleep disorders. For example, a doctor might prescribe a muscle relaxant to someone who is having severe muscle spasms, stiffness, or tremors. This type of medication can be given orally or as an injection.
While behavioral therapy can’t help lessen the symptoms, it can, however, help the person with the disorder learn better ways of coping with the disability. For instance, as the disease progresses, someone with the early symptoms of spinocerebellar ataxia might modify some of their activities to accommodate their decreased ability to control their motor movements. As the symptoms progress, they might need help from other people to do daily self-care tasks, such as brushing their teeth.
Disability Benefits for Spinocerebellar Ataxia
Spinocerebellar ataxia is a fairly uncommon disease, but it can be completely disabling, especially for people who have had it for several years. But there’s a specific listing in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, which is the guide that’s used to determine whether or not someone is eligible for disability benefits. In fact, in some instances, a person might even qualify for a compassionate allowance, which is a specific type of process that the SSA has to help expedite the process of getting disability benefits for people with particularly disabling conditions. In total, there are 88 conditions that are on the SSAs list of disabilities that qualify for the Compassionate Allowance Program, and spinocerebellar ataxia is on that list.
In order to qualify for the Compassionate Allowance Program under the spinocerebellar ataxia listing, the applicant must satisfy at least one of the two following criteria:
Extreme inability to stand or perform other motor functions because of a disorganized motor functioning in at least two extremities. For instance, two legs, two arms, or one leg and one arm would all qualify someone. These inabilities include standing from a seated position, walking, and using the arms.
The other option is that the applicant must have marked limitations in their physical functioning and at least one of the following limitations: interacting with others, remembering and applying information, or adapting and managing themselves.
It’s very important for the applicant to work closely with their doctor because most claims are denied because of a lack of medical evidence.
How We Can Help
There are several ways in which the team at Osterhout Berger Disability Law can help you receive the benefit you deserve. We help individuals who need to…
- Apply for Social Security Benefits and want to ensure everything is done right the first time
- Appeal a denial of Social Security Disability Benefits
- Appeal an existing denial of Long Term Disability (LTD) Benefits
If you are facing one of these situations due to Spinocerebellar Ataxia, please do not hesitate in reaching out. Our team of experienced attorneys are here to help, and your consultation is free.