As a Cobb County Elder Law Attorney, I can tell you that it is not only the eldest among us who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s for those under age 65 can be difficult. Early-onset Alzheimer’s, which can even strike people in their 30s and 40s, affects less than 5% of all Alzheimer’s patients. Because doctors don’t usually suspect Alzheimer’s at such young ages, the symptoms are often attributed to other causes, such as depression, stress, and even (in women) menopause.
But it’s important that employees get the diagnosis as early as possible, in order to maximize benefits that are available to them. If you are fired before anyone knows what is going on, you won’t be able to take advantage of the benefits for which you qualify.
As soon as you have a diagnosis, tell your employer and ask for an accommodation before it becomes a problem. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not list specific medical conditions that are covered, but an employee with dementia will typically qualify. Work with your employer to determine steps that will allow you to work as long as possible, such as teaming up with another employee, having written instructions, setting short-term deadlines, ride-sharing and flex-time.
Next, contact your Human Resources to determine the benefits that are available to you and work out a timetable to make sure you take full advantage of them. These include:
- Short-term and long-term disability insurance. These will replace part of your income when you can no longer work.
- Paid leave. You may be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Some employers are exempt from providing the leave, so be sure to ask about it.
- COBRA. When your health insurance discontinues, you will be offered the opportunity to buy continuing coverage. To continue coverage until Medicare begins (see below), you will need to provide the insurance company proof of disability. COBRA can be expensive, so you will want to compare costs and coverage to other plans in the marketplace.
- Social Security Disability. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is on the list of conditions that expedite access to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility. Social Security disability benefits begin five months after an employee develops a disability, with payment starting in the sixth month. Begin the application process when you go on short-term disability.
- Medicare. Coverage will start about two years after you have been on disability. When Medicare begins, Medigap coverage can be purchased to help pay for deductibles and co-pays that Medicare does not cover. There are also Medicare Advantage Plans that provide Medicare coverage along with prescription coverage.