How Daily Activities affect Social Security Disability Applications

A finding of disability does not require an individual be homebound or bedridden. Disability is not defined by a claimant’s lack of ability to perform any task or participate in any sort of activity, but rather by the claimant’s ability to perform sustained activity on a regular, daily basis for an extended amount of time without interference by their medication condition, medication or side effects.

When new applicants are asked what they do during the day, the first answer is almost always, “Nothing”. However, when prodded for further information, they reveal that they watch television, use their computer, perform household chores such as cooking, doing the dishes, laundry and even light housework. In some cases they care for their children and even try to participate in social activities. This doesn’t mean that the claimant is lying with his first answer, because he does feel wholly unproductive, especially compared to when he was working full-time and feeling healthy.

A disabled individual generally does perform small tasks around the house, including laundry, child care, dishes, and light cleaning. They may even grocery shop, have a meal out with friends and go to church or some other social event.


The difference is the frequency and quantity in which the individual participates in these activities. When they were healthy, they may have gone out to eat once a week, played on a volleyball team, done 10 loads of laundry in a week and cleaned the house on the weekends. In comparison, after the disability begins, they may put the dishes in the dishwasher once a week (but not unload it due to pain), fold a load of laundry on occasion (but not put it in the washer, transfer it to the dryer, carry the basket or put the clothes away), and make plans with friends but fail to follow through with them more often than not.

In terms of child care, the disabled individual may have been the primary caretaker, getting the kids to and from school, making their lunches, helping with homework, transporting to and from events and cooking meals. After the disability, they may begin to rely on others for transportation, cooking, and after school care. In rare cases, the individual even makes arrangement with family members and friends to be available so that the individual is not alone with the children in case of an emergency.

Ultimately, a claimant needs to assess their daily life activities and be honest about what they do to fill their day, care for their children and keep their house clean. If spouses, older children or other friends assist in any tasks or can attest to changes in behavior from before the disability to the present, their testimony can also be helpful. Especially for an individual without a clear physical disability (i.e., loss of limb, deformity, or in need of an assistive device at all times), daily life activities are crucial to determining an individual’s functional capacity. In preparation for applying for disability and/or meeting with an attorney, spend some time considering your daily life activities and talk with family and friends about changes from pre-disability behavior as being aware of these differences can save time and help you receive benefits faster.

Attorney Jennifer J. Allen is an associate attorney with Alan C. Olson & Associates, S.C. If you have any questions about Social Security Disability, please contact her at [email protected].


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