Narcolepsy can be a debilitating, chronic neurological disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s daily living. People who suffer from Narcolepsy generally experience Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (“ESD”) due to the brain’s inability to control the sleep-wake cycles.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy include unwillingly falling asleep during activities such as driving, talking, or eating. Sufferers of Narcolepsy may experience sudden muscle weakness that can make their limbs go limp or a sudden loss of muscle control in large portions of their body (cataplexy) without warning. Hallucinations, vivid dream-like images, and total paralysis just before falling asleep are also common. If Narcolepsy is left undiagnosed or untreated, it can interfere with virtually all spheres of a person’s life, including social activities, family obligations, and especially work activities.
Sufferers of Narcolepsy can experience episodes of “sleep attacks,” where a sudden feeling of extreme sleepiness can come on quickly and without warning. Everyday emotions such as anger, crying, fear, and even laughter can trigger a “sleep attack” or an episode of cataplexy. Causing severe disruptions in the sufferer’s everyday life and ability to perform at work.
Is Narcolepsy a Disability?
Definitions of Disability will vary by insurance company, employer, and even policy. However, Narcolepsy can meet the criteria for a disability in many circumstances. As a court in Washington State found an employee,
“who is continuously drowsy and fatigued, unable to concentrate …. Unable to work more than fifteen (15) hours per week, and unable to predict which hours [they] will be available, if at all. This court cannot imagine any occupation that such a person could fill successfully, much less an employer who would be willing to hire [them].” Ellis v. Egghead Software Short-Term & Long-Term Disability Plans, 64 F.Supp. 2d 986, 995 (E.D. Wash. Sept 8, 1999).
How Hard Is it to Get Disability for Narcolepsy?
Your doctor can provide you with a diagnosis of Narcolepsy and the precipitating symptoms. However, it is very important to document how those symptoms affect and impair your ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Your medical records should clearly document the duration, frequency, and intensity of your symptoms. Including daytime sleepiness, any sleep attacks you have experienced, and if you have suffered from any episodes of cataplexy. Some sufferers of Narcolepsy find keeping a symptom journal helpful in tracking their daily, weekly, and monthly symptoms. This helps them explain what has occurred since their last doctor’s appointment and may be useful during the disability application process.
In addition, it may also be helpful to ask family members or close friends to write a letter explaining how your symptoms affect your social and daily life. This may include how this family member or friend has witnessed a change in your ability to concentrate, focus, or stay on task since your diagnosis of Narcolepsy. Any evidence that you are able to provide to the insurance company showing how the symptoms of your Narcolepsy have a negative impact on your life can help during the application process for disability benefits.
Tips for Applying for Narcolepsy Disability Benefits
- Keep a journal.
- Narcolepsy affects a person’s ability to focus, and concentrate, so a journal or diary of symptoms can help you remember your symptoms, days missed at work or projects that you missed deadlines.
- Write down the details of your condition.
- Including when your symptoms started, diagnosis date, medications you are taking, triggers that bring on your symptoms, and anything that may relieve your symptoms (i.e., laying down in a dark room).
- Ask your doctor to keep detailed medical records, including symptoms discussed at your appointments.
- Include any mention of sleep attacks or cataplexy and how they affect your daily and work activities.
- Ask your doctor to write a letter detailing your Narcolepsy symptoms, medications (and side effects), how your symptoms affect your ability to work.
- Including walking, lifting, sitting, cognitive function, and how many days you are likely to miss work each month due to your Narcolepsy symptoms.
Therefore, as a general guideline, if you meet the following criteria:
- You have been receiving treatment for Narcolepsy for at least three (3) months, and you are still experiencing symptoms;
- Your condition has a significant impact on your ability to perform the essential duties of your regular occupation; and,
- You have missed work due to your Narcolepsy symptoms at least four (4) days a month.
It may be time to review your short-term and long-term disability policies and consider tips for applying for disability benefits.
Dealing with Narcolepsy or any other sleep disabilities can be stressful and confusing. The attorneys at DeBofsky Law are precisely experienced in handling these types of claims. Please get in touch if we can help alleviate the burden of applying for benefits or appealing a denied disability benefits claim.