Top 5 Tips on How to Fill Out Social Security’s “Activities of Daily Living” Form From Marci McKenna

Marci McKenna
Marci McKenna

Top 5 Tips on How to Fill Out Social Security’s “Activities of Daily Living” Form

At some point during the disability process Social Security will ask you to fill out one or more forms about how your illness or injury limits your ability to work, and how it affects your daily activities. If your job required a lot of standing and walking or heavy lifting, you probably won’t have any problem explaining why you can no longer stand and walk for 8 hours a day if you have diabetic neuropathy in your feet or lift and carry 25 to 50 pounds if you have a back injury.

Social Security will also ask you to describe how your illness or injury limits your day-to-day functions or what is called your “activities of daily living.” This is where it can get a bit tricky, and where a number of disability claimants have a problem and don’t give a full explanation of the true-to-life impact of their disability on their daily activities.

Tip 1: Copy the Form. You will receive from Social Security a Function Report – Adult – Form SSA-3373 to describe information about your “activities of daily living” or “ADL.” Make a copy of this form and once you have your explanation as you want it, write it over onto the original form and send the original into Social Security. If you don’t have access to a copier, use a sheet of paper and write down the sections and subparts from the form and your answers on the sheet of paper and then transfer your final answers to the form.

Tip 2: Think in Terms of Disabilities Rather Than Abilities. One of the questions on the form is: Describe what you do from the time you wake up until going to bed. For example, a claimant who is thinking in terms of abilities may write: “When I wake up, I take my pills, shower, make the kids and myself breakfast, drive the kids to school, return home, lie down for an hour, get up and wash the dishes.” However, a claimant who is thinking in terms of disabilities may write: “When I wake up, it takes me 30 minutes to get out of bed due to severe, chronic low back pain when it used to take me 5 minutes, I take my pills, and because of my back injury I have to shower in the hall bath because I can’t step into my bathtub in the master bath, it takes me 30 minutes to shower when it used to take me 10 minutes, I used to wash my hair every day but I can’t because it hurts to raise my arms above shoulder level for longer than a few minutes at a time, I no longer cook breakfast for the kids because I can’t stand at the stove for longer than 5 minutes so I make cereal and I keep the cereal boxes at waist level in the cabinet because I can’t bend over at the waist, I drive the kids to school in a van we had to purchase after my back injury because I couldn’t bend to get into the 4-door sedan I had before the back injury, I return home and because my back is in muscle spasms after this activity I have to lie down for an hour before I am able to rinse the dishes for 5 minutes and set them aside for my daughter who will load them in the dishwasher when she gets home after school.” And don’t worry about not having enough room for your answer as the last page of the form has a Remarks page for you to continue your answer.

Tip 3: Think in Terms of How You Did Things Before and How You Do Things Now.

Another question addresses how your illness or injury affects your personal care including your ability to dress, bathe, use the toilet, care for your hair, shave, and feed yourself. Wait. Before you check everything and say you are still able to do these things, you need to think about it as you may have made a lot more modifications in your personal care routine than you realize. For instance:

You no longer take tub baths because you can’t get in and out of the tub, and you installed grab bars in the shower because your chronic back pain makes you unsteady on your feet.

You no longer use a manual razor blade to shave and use an electric shaver because of hand numbness.

You no longer wash your hair every day because it hurts your back to raise your arms overhead.

You no longer wear shoes that tie because it hurts to bend over.

You no longer cook your meals on the stove because you can’t stand longer than 5 to 10 minutes before your back starts to hurt.

Or, it takes extra time to get showered and dressed than before the illness/injury because of the pain.

This also applies to social activities and hobbies. Social Security is interested in what you used to do and what you do now. You no longer read the newspaper because you can’t see the fine print or can’t concentrate. You no longer go out with friends or to church because you’re depressed and don’t feel like seeing anyone.

Tip 4: Be Consistent. The activities of daily living or ADL form asks a number of questions about what you do during the day, how long it takes, how your illness/injury affects your ability to care for yourself, care for others, care for your pets, go shopping, prepare your meals, do household chores, both indoors and outdoors, and what your hobbies, interests, and social activities are and how they have been affected by your illness/injury. You need to make sure your answers are consistent throughout the form along with your medical records and social media accounts. Don’t forget that if you told your doctor that you overdid it cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family and you write on the ADL form that you never cook anymore because it’s too much on your back that this won’t be consistent. For example, you could say, “I never cook anymore except for the one time I tried cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family and my back was killing me the whole time. The next day I couldn’t get out of bed for 24 hours.” One more thing: Don’t forget those family photos on your Facebook page showing you walking around Six Flags Over Georgia for eight hours. You’ll want to make sure that your Facebook page is consistent with your statements on the ADL form and if you take a family trip to an amusement park we recommend that you stay within your doctor’s limitations.

Tip 5: Tell Your Doctor Your Difficulties Doing Daily Activities. You’ll want to tell your doctor how your illness/injury is affecting your daily activities so it becomes part of your medical record, and your reports of difficulty with your day-to-day functioning will be corroborated by your medical record.

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