I am often told by my clients that their inability to concentrate, focus, and poor memory plays a major role in why they cannot work. Perhaps it is their pain or other symptoms. It may be side effects from medications. No matter what the cause is, I cannot stress enough how important concentration, focus, and memory problems are to proving that you are disabled. Do NOT downplay these problems to anyone.

Whether you are applying for Disability Insurance, ERISA, or Social Security Disability/SSI benefits, you need to make sure the decision-maker knows about any problems you have with concentration, focus, and memory. Why? Because jobs require you to be able to keep on task and remember things. If you cannot focus on what you are doing, you cannot make decision or carry out tasks. If you have memory problems, you likely will have problems following instructions or making sure you go through every step in a process.

The Social Security Administration calls these things “non-exertional impairments,” and their disability rules say:

ยง404.1569a (c) Nonexertional limitations. (1) When the limitations and restrictions imposed by your impairment(s) and related symptoms, such as pain, affect only your ability to meet the demands of jobs other than the strength demands, we consider that you have only nonexertional limitations or restrictions. Some examples of nonexertional limitations or restrictions include the following:

(i) You have difficulty functioning because you are nervous, anxious, or depressed;

(ii) You have difficulty maintaining attention or concentrating;

(iii) You have difficulty understanding or remembering detailed instructions;

One of Social Security’s internal rulings says:

Mental limitations or restrictions: A substantial loss of ability to meet any one of several basic work-related activities on a sustained basis (i.e., 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule), will substantially erode the unskilled sedentary occupational base and would justify a finding of disability. These mental activities are generally required by competitive, remunerative, unskilled work:

  • Understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions.
  • Making judgments that are commensurate with the functions of unskilled work–i.e., simple work- related decisions.
  • Responding appropriately to supervision, co- workers and usual work situations.
  • Dealing with changes in a routine work setting.

That means that Social Security may consider you disabled even if you still have physical abilities, but have serious problems with your concentration and memory. While these rules do not apply to insurance companies, the same concepts apply.

So what do you do?

  • Be sure to list these kinds of problems on any forms you fill out for the disability insurance company, Social Security, or the Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • Tell all of your doctors about these problems;
  • If you think these problems come from your prescription medicine(s), tell your doctors that you are having side effects from the medicine and describe the side effects; and
  • If the insurance company, Social Security, or the VA sends you for an examination, be sure to explain the problems you are having with concentration, focus, and memory; and explain if these problems are side effects from your medicines or are caused by pain or other symptoms.


Copyright (c) 2011 by John V. Tucker and Tucker & Ludin, P.A. All rights reserved. For assistance with your Long Term Disability claim, ERISA Disability benefit claim, Social Security Disability claim, or Veterans Disability compensation or pension claim, call Disability Lawyer John Tucker at (866) 282-5260.

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