The Doctor’s Corner: 3 Exciting New Developments

Several new advances in treatment and testing have provided hope to the sufferers of several different medical conditions who are all too familiar with disability insurance. We often discuss conditions such as chronic back pain, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other conditions that routinely leave patients unable to perform the material and substantial duties of their occupation. Fortunately, every day we get more and better treatments to relieve these debilitating conditions. As research continues and makes advances, some people who were previously permanently totally disabled may be able to find relief and recovery. As we’ve done in the past, today’s post is going to focus on some advances that are particularly relevant to claimants receiving disability benefits.

Surprising research on the effectiveness of steroid shots for lower back pain: Currently, epidural steroid injections are one of the most common non-surgical treatment for lower back pain. However, new analysis by researchers at John Back painHopkins has shown that these steroid injections may be unnecessary. Their analysis shows that injections of saline and local anesthetic (such as Lidocaine) into the space around the spinal cord are as effective in relieving pain as steroid injections. Steroid injections have become increasingly controversial due to the debate between the usefulness of the treatment weighed against the side effects caused by these powerful chemicals. The side effects of an epidural steroid injection include raising blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, slowing wound healing, and an exacerbation of bone disease in older women. In addition, the number of steroid shots a patient may receive per year is limited, and there is always a risk of contamination leading to diseases such as fungal meningitis. While researchers admit that a larger study is needed before recommending that patients stop receiving epidural steroid injections, this is a good step towards reducing the side effects and risks of treatment of lower back pain.

New success in blocking the progression of Type 1 Diabetes: Using a drug originally marketed to treat psoriasis, researchers have been able to effectively block the progression of type 1 diabetes. A multi-center study has shown that patients receiving injections of the drug Alefacept were producing the same amount of insulin one year later as opposed to the placebo group, which saw their insulin production drop as is expected in cases of type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes cannot be reversed or cured with current treatment, and the long-term complications include stroke, circulatory problems in extremities, heart disease, and visual impairments. This experimental treatment was also well-tolerated by the group, experiencing no serious adverse events during the study. The results of this study lend to the efficacy of the drug protocol, which will lead to larger population studies and possibly a new and better weapon in the arsenal against diabetes.

Dietary supplement may be able to reverse Alzheimer’s disease: In a small but intriguing study, researchers have been able to reverse the brain deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients using an extract consisting of aloe vera and several other key nutrients. The extract had few side effects and improved cognitive function in 46% of the patients, including several who were able to drastically reverse the symptoms of the disease. After 9 months of receiving the aloe verasupplement, nearly half of the patients scored significantly higher on a cognitive examination, saw improved immune function, and averaged a 377% increase in stem cell production. This study examined patients across the spectrum of Alzheimer’s, from the severely impaired to those who had been recently diagnosed with the disease. Researchers hope that this study will lead to a larger-scale test that will enable a new treatment protocol for this horrible disease.

Although these treatments provide hope for claimants suffering from these conditions, they are still far from being considered appropriate care for the conditions by the insurance companies. Until these treatments and others like it are vetted further and become approved and accepted by the medical community, it’s important for claimants to continue the courses of treatment recommended by the attending physicians. As time goes on, we will continue to find cures for previously incurable conditions and help many of the affected return to their jobs and live normal lives again. Until then, it’s important to protect your rights and make sure you receive the disability benefits you deserve while you can’t work.

If you have any questions about your disability claim, or would like more information, please visit our website to sign up for a free consultation or call us toll-free at (855) 828-4100.

Bringing Your Vision-Based Disability Claim Into Focus, Part 2

Today, we’re going to finish our blog series on vision-based disability claims. Last week, we covered Glaucoma and how individuals suffering from this condition can make sure they get the benefits they deserve. The second half of this series focuses on a couple of lesser known conditions that can also affect the quality of life of sufferers and prevent them from continuing in their occupations. If you suffer from one of the these conditions, following the tips below may help you get the benefits you deserve.

Macular Degeneration

maculardegenAge-related macular degeneration is a condition which usually affects individuals over the age of 50, although rare cases have been reported in younger patients. Due to damage to the retina, macular degeneration can cause loss of vision in the center of your vision field, called the macula. This central loss of vision makes it difficult to do such activities as reading or recognizing faces, although enough peripheral vision is often present to allow the patient to participate in activities of daily life. The initial symptom is often yellow deposits, called drusen, in the retina. The larger and more prevalent the drusen are in the eye, the more likely an individual is to develop macular degeneration. Although it affects the central vision, macular degeneration doesn’t usually lead to complete blindness. The macula compromises only 2% of the retina, leaving the remaining 98% of the vision field unaffected. However, almost 50% of the visual cortex is devoted to processing macular information. In addition, losing central vision is extremely detrimental to basic visual tasks – reading is almost impossible and the loss of contrast sensitivity makes it more difficult to differentiate between colors, contours, and shadows.

There are several tests to determine if you have macular degeneration. These tests measure the presence and size of several different objects in the eye to tell if a patient has the symptoms of the disease. If these issues are present, then there are several different vision tests that can confirm the diagnosis. Once the diagnosis has been determined, the treatment usually consists of injection directly into the eye on a monthly or bimonthly basis. There is no permanent cure for macular degeneration at this time, so controlling the disease is the best choice at this time. In addition to the injections, adaptive devices such as special eyeglass lenses, computer screen readers, and accessible publishing options for books can make the daily life of sufferers easier.

There are several issues that insureds may face when filing a disability claim resulting from macular degeneration. The main issue is the fact that patients can still use their peripheral vision to see certain objects and continue basic daily life activities. Claims examiners can twist this ability into an argument that the insured is still able to perform their job duties. In cases where the insurance company uses surveillance,  the activities on video can be taken out of context if the insured is going into public and completing tasks that may require some vision, but not the detailed abilities that a healthy macula provides. Anyone who is applying for disability benefits based upon macular degeneration should make sure to show how their job functions include tasks that require detailed vision to complete.  Otherwise, this can result in an example of the disconnect between a diagnosis and a disability, discussed in one of our prior blog posts.

Retinitis Pigmentosa

retinitis pigmentosaRetinitis pigmentosa is an inherited, degenerative eye disease that can cause severe vision impairment and often leads to blindness. It’s a very unpredictable disease, with some sufferers exhibiting symptoms from birth while others may not notice the condition until much later in life. It can also cause tunnel vision, night blindness, and a loss of central vision. Retinitis pigmentosa is caused by abnormalities in the retina, centered in either the photoreceptors or retinal pigment epithelium. There are no visual symptoms of the disease and sufferers must constantly adapt to less and less vision, eventually causing major issues with the activities of daily living.

Testing for retinitis pigmentosa relies on documentation showing the continual loss of photoreceptor function through visual field testing. In addition, DNA testing is available to detect the presence of a number of different gene indicators that can give advance warning of the condition. After a patient is diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, there is little they can do. At this time, there is no cure for the condition, although some new treatments hold promise but aren’t yet widely accepted. Using vitamin A supplements can postpone blindness by years in some cases, and a retinal prosthesis is being tested in several European countries with promising results. Many sufferers  of this condition maintain some form of central vision for a period of time. Some insurance companies have delayed (or denied) disability claims on this fact, asserting that claimants are still able to do sedentary work and work in conditions that don’t require seeing in low light. If you’re suffering from this condition, make sure that the diagnosis and evolution of your condition is well documented and substantiates how you’re prevented from performing your job duties even with “reasonable accommodations.”

Losing your vision is a scary though but is a reality for many people. The last thing someone who is losing or lost their normal vision to differentiate between light and shapes should have to worry about is their ability to collect the disability benefits they deserve. Some insurance companies use the uncertainty in many vision conditions to cast doubt on the claim and find reasons to delay or deny paying benefits. They will say that accommodations can be made even when they’re bordering being unreasonable. The ability of many low-vision claimants to continue doing things like going to the store and completing yard work makes insurance companies suspicious and surveillance videos seem like indictments.

If you’re considering filing a disability claim based off of a vision based disability or are being treated unfairly by the insurance company, please visit our website to sign up for a free consultation or call our offices toll-free at (855) 828-4100.

Bringing Your Vision-Based Disability Claim Into Focus

Vision is a sense that many people take for granted. Although many individuals wear glasses and contacts to correct their vision or may even get LASIK, not may people consider the consequences of having a chronic disease that limits your ability to see clearly even with corrective measures. There are three specific conditions that our firm sees on a recurring basis involving vision losses: glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa. A disability claim based upon loss of vision can be surprisingly difficult, as many insurance companies demand a high level of vision loss before being considered to be eligible for benefits. This, however, does not mean that such people are still able to perform their job. If there is strong medical evidence to back up your claims and an accurate and complete job description to show how you are no longer able to the material and substantial duties of your occupation due to these limitations,  insurance companies will have little choice but to approve you for the disability benefits you deserve. Each of these conditions has different tests and treatments that will be necessary to identify and treat the disease.

Glaucoma

GlaucomaGlaucoma is not a specific disease itself but is the name for a group of diseases that affect the optic nerves and can cause blindness. In fact, glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide. It affects 1 out of every 200 people under the age of 50 and rarely exhibits any symptoms. The two main types of glaucoma are “open-angle” and “closed-angle,” referring to the area between the iris and cornea. Closed-angle glaucoma often has a sudden, painful onset and can cause a sudden loss of vision. However, the amount of discomfort involved usually leads sufferers to pursue treatment before damage becomes permanent. Open-angle, chronic glaucoma on the other hand progresses at a slower rate and doesn’t cause the same level of discomfort. Because of this, many sufferers don’t realize they have lost vision until the disease has progressed significantly. This is the type of glaucoma that causes the most disability issues. Because of the lack of clear symptoms, many sufferers don’t realize their deteriorating condition until it’s too late to restore their eyesight, leading to permanent losses of ability.

Qualifying for short term disability benefits based upon a diagnosis of glaucoma is much more common than qualifying for long term disability. There are a number of effective treatments for the condition, and insurance companies often assume (and/or insist) that anyone who suffers from this condition will soon return to their former health – even though some cases of glaucoma are permanently impairing. This is why it’s so important to follow the proper medical protocols for testing and for treatment during the course of the condition. Testing for glaucoma is a part of most standard eye examinations and include measurements of the pressure in the eye, changes in the size of the eye, and examination of the optical nerve for visible damage. If glaucoma is detected early enough, it can be treated a number of different ways. There are surgical remedies, medications, medicinal eye drops, and even medical marijuana (depending on where you live) that have been proven effective in controlling and even reversing the symptoms of glaucoma.  The best outcome is to successfully treat the glaucoma and recover your eyesight.  But if someone suffers from glaucoma that has permanently damaged their eyesight, then it’s critical to have substantial testing and medical proof for the medical condition, its symptoms, as well as documentation tying the occupational duties to the person’s eyesight. If you’ve been accurately diagnosed with the condition, continue with proper care and treatment, and prove that you can’t perform the occupational duties, you should be able to maintain the disability benefits you deserve.

We’ll go into the other vision conditions that often result in disability claims in our next posting.

Losing your vision can be a terrifying event, and many people expect that their disability insurance company will not question their claim.  But not only are many of these claims questioned – they’re denied using a variety of policy defenses. If you’re considering filing a disability claim due to your loss of vision or feel like you’re being unfairly hassled by the claims process, please visit our website to sign up for a free consultation or call our offices toll-free at (855) 828-4100.