While we don’t know the exact number of people with epilepsy, an estimated 3.4 million people in the U.S. have this neurological condition. It comes in varying forms and severity, and for some, it can seriously interfere with daily life. If you suffer from epilepsy and experience several seizures a month, you may wonder, “Is epilepsy a disability?” This is a serious question and one that Arlington Heights, Illinois, residents deserve an answer to. In this article, we discuss what epilepsy is, whether the condition qualifies as a disability, and when you should consider undergoing neurological testing.
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder wherein nerve cells in the brain fire off abnormally. When this excessive electrical activity occurs, it results in seizures. Often, the exact reason you have seizures is unknown. Triggers for seizures can vary for different people, and there are a few types of seizures, each with distinct characteristics. The three types of seizures are:
- Focal onset: With simple focal onset seizures, the seizure starts in a single lobe on one side of the brain. However, if the seizure spreads to other parts of the brain, it’s called a complex focal seizure.
- Generalized: A generalized seizure is less common than a focal seizure and can cause you to lose consciousness, fall, and have severe contractions in one or more muscle groups.
- Unknown onset: Although not associated with the abnormal electrical brain activity typical of epilepsy, unknown onset seizures present in a similar manner. This type of epilepsy often causes seizures that come in clusters.
Doctors describe seizure symptoms as either motor or nonmotor. For focal onset seizures, patients may experience these motor symptoms:
- Weak muscles.
- Limp muscles.
- Tense muscles.
- Rigid muscles.
- Repeated motions, such as clapping, lip-smacking, or walking in circles.
Nonmotor symptoms that might come with focal seizures include a lack of movement or changes in:
- Autonomic functions.
For generalized seizures, motor symptoms can present as:
- Rhythmic jerking movements.
- Repeated flexion and extension movements.
- Weak, limp, rigid, or tense muscles.
- Brief but repetitious muscle twitching.
The nonmotor symptoms associated with generalized seizures are:
- Staring and nonmovement.
- Brief body twitching or twitching in the eyelids.
Does Epilepsy Qualify as a Disability?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, you may have epilepsy. It’s a good idea to get neurological testing to help you understand your condition and get the proper treatment. In some cases, epilepsy is considered a disability. If your seizures affect your ability to do your job or maintain a normal life, you may qualify for disability benefits. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to go through the rigorous process of securing disability benefits approval from the federal government, also known as Social Security Insurance or Social Security Disability Insurance.
The first step to take if you feel that your epilepsy is affecting your ability to work is to seek a medical evaluation and begin a treatment plan. Without proof that you have epilepsy and are doing everything you can to prevent seizures through medical treatment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will deny your claim for disability benefits. Some criteria the SSA considers are whether your epilepsy has been going on for at least a year or is expected to last a year or more and if your seizures have occurred at least once a month for three consecutive months.
You’ll also likely need to show that your seizures are causing functional problems and affecting your ability to:
- Move normally.
- Remember or apply information.
- Interact with others normally.
- Concentrate or persist in activity.
- Take care of yourself or adapt to situations.
Is Epilepsy a Disability in the Workplace?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, epilepsy is a disability because having seizures limits the major functions and activities of those with the condition. Although you don’t have to disclose your condition to your employer, the ADA offers protection to individuals with this neurological condition. Even if you take medication that controls or eliminates your seizures, you’re still considered to have a disability if you have epilepsy. This means that an employer can’t refuse to hire you due to your condition. In addition, your employer must accommodate you and your condition.
While most people won’t require much in the way of accommodations for epilepsy, your employer must allow you to take time off to seek medical care or provide breaks for you to take medication. You’re also allowed to take time to recover from a seizure in a quiet place away from your work. If you need accommodations, you’ll have to disclose to your employer that you have epilepsy. Also, your Arlington Heights employer can require you to seek medical attention if your seizures are affecting your ability to do your job.
Does Epilepsy Get Worse With Age?
Our bodies change as we age, which can affect epilepsy. The condition can affect people at any age, but it often develops in children and older adults. Adults over 65 who suffer from epilepsy are most at risk because the disorder often causes falling and problems with muscles that might already be weak. There’s no data that supports epilepsy getting worse with age, but it can happen. The reason may not be specific to an aging body. Because epilepsy and age both can cause memory loss, a worsening of seizures could be associated with forgetting to take medication as prescribed.
Getting the right treatment for epilepsy and changing that treatment as needed is the best way to control seizures. As your body ages, you may need to alter your medication by increasing or lowering your dosage or changing your treatment plan completely.
Do You Need To Get Neurological Testing?
Epilepsy can develop in anyone at any age. If you think that you might have epilepsy or you’ve experienced a seizure in the past, contact our team at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights. We can help diagnose your condition and create a treatment plan that works for you. Our Chicago-area team always puts you and your health first.