Social Security Disability Requirements for People 55 & Older

Social Security disability provides cash benefits for insured workers.
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The Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits program provides cash payments to disabled workers and their children. The SSA uses a five-step process to determine if a worker claiming disability (the claimant) meets the requirements for benefits:

  1. is the worker currently working?

  2. Does the worker have a specific medical diagnosis?

  3. Does the worker have a similar diagnosis?

  4. Ability to continue working

  5. Ability to do other work

SSA realizes the older a worker is, the more likely the worker’s impairment can reduce or eliminate the ability to work. SSA has special considerations for workers over 55 years of age and factors this age into the disability determination process.


A claimant cannot be working and receive disability benefits. Many workers with serious debilitating impairments will apply for disability and continue working in hopes they will be allowed benefits and can then stop doing painful tasks. SSA, however, uses the logic a worker cannot be working and at the same time be disabled from work. The claimant cannot be working at any age and receive disability. This can cause serious economic hardship while waiting for a decision on the application and at the same time earning no income.


The more educated the claimant then the more likely the ability to do other work. It’s is imperative to realize SSA does not provide disability benefits if the claimant cannot do a particular job – benefits are allowed if a claimant can no longer work. SSA will not hesitate to inform a claimant that even though a condition may prevent doing some types of medium or heavy work, there is no limitation doing light work. The claimant’s education will indicate the ability to learn, be retrained and take on new job duties and skills. Claimants over 55 however, are recognized for having been out of the education setting for possibly decades since high school. SSA recognizes this and will take this into consideration when determining the older claimant’s ability to do other work.

Other work

SSA decides disability impairments in two ways – a specific medical diagnosis leading to disability and severe impairments not specifically disabling but severe enough to impact the ability to work. A specific diagnosis would be a form of cancer, advanced diabetes, AIDS, heart disease, or a mental condition. Claimants with serious conditions but not immediately disabling can have serious muscular and skeletal problems (bad back, neck, shoulder and leg pain), arthritis or other such maladies. A claimant 55 years and older with such serious conditions will be assessed with different criteria than a younger worker. SSA recognizes the older worker’s ability to function can be severely impaired by a diagnosis that may be identical in a younger worker but more debilitating because of advanced age.

Medical diagnosis

The SSA has an actual listing of impairments indicating immediate disability. Diseases such as some cancers, hepatitis, diabetes, certain AIDS diagnoses, amputation conditions, specific psychiatric diagnosis and many others will mean the worker is disabled. Also, the SSA realizes the myriad of medical maladies cannot all be listed in a single source. Many associated illnesses similar to listed diagnoses will meet SSA's requirements and be allowed.

These listed diagnoses are not age specific. No matter the age of the worker with one of these diagnoses there will be an allowance.