Understand, Remember, or Apply Information

The first area of mental functioning – Understand, Remember, or Apply Information – focuses on the abilities to learn, recall, and use information to perform work activities. This article contains key criteria that DDS will assess, tips on gathering information, and examples of functional descriptions.

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NOTE: Beginning January 17, 2017, this functional area replaced Activities of Daily Living as the first area of mental functioning. SSI/SSDI applications filed on or after January 17th should specifically address this area. ADLs will continue to be addressed throughout all four areas of mental functioning.
This area of mental functioning refers to the abilities to learn, recall, and use information to perform work activities.
 
Aspects of "Understand, Remember, or Apply Information" can include:
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Remembering short and long-term details
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Understanding and learning terms, instructions and procedures
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Asking and answering questions and providing explanations
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Logical thinking or sequencing multi-step activities
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Using reason and judgment for work-related decisions
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Recognizing a mistake and correcting it
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Identifying and solving problems
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Flight of ideas; difficulty organizing thoughts
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Difficulty in following 1-2 step instructions
How does DDS utilize this information?
DDS evaluates the applicant’s ability to understand and remember information and instructions, such that the applicant is able to apply this information in a work setting. DDS will consider an applicant’s ability to learn new information, ask questions, perform multi-step tasks, and identify and correct mistakes on an independent, appropriate, effective, and sustained basis.
 
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SOAR Tip: Remember that it can be difficult for many of us to recall exact dates of employment or names of doctors visited years or decades ago. It is important to focus on the struggles with memory and understanding that impact the applicant’s ability to learn new tasks and apply them at work.
Gathering Information:
Remember that your observations are important!
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Do you frequently have to remind the applicant of upcoming appointments, or does the applicant miss scheduled SOAR appointments?  
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Does the applicant exhibit frustration or anxiety when unable to remember information related to your questions? Does the applicant have trouble remembering dates and details of treatment or work history?
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Does the applicant get distracted and have trouble organizing their thoughts or questions for you during appointments? If you give them multiple steps to complete a task (e.g. fill out this document, find John at the shelter to sign it, then return it to the front desk) are they able to successfully follow all instructions?

Key questions to ask the applicant while you are interviewing them for the MSR include:

Remember Information

  • Do you notice any changes in your memory? Do you find it easier to remember things from the past or things that happened recently? What do you notice that is different about your memory? When do you notice this? Can you give me a specific example?
  • When someone gives you directions or instructions, are you able to remember them?  Do you use any techniques to help remember things?
  • How often do you have difficulty remembering something, such as a person’s name, an appointment time, or instructions?
  • Was there ever a time that you forgot something that was really important? If so, what happened?
  • When you are having difficulty, how much effort do you have to put into remembering?
  • Are there any activities that you cannot do because of a problem with your memory or because you have trouble understanding the instructions?
  • Do you take your medicine at the time that you are supposed to? Do you forget to take your medicine?  How do you respond when you don't take your medicine?

Understand and Apply Information

  • Do you have difficulty learning a new task, for example, learning how to get to a new place? Can you tell me about a time that happened?
  • If you aren’t sure of how to do something, what do you do?
  • When someone gives you more than three instructions on how to do a task, do you experience any difficulty in remembering the order of steps?
  • When you begin to work on a task and something goes wrong, how do you correct it?
  • Have you ever followed a recipe? Tell me about your experience with that.
  • If the applicant has a work history: When you start a new job and are learning what to do, how quickly do you catch on?
  • When someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, what do you do?

Putting it into Practice: Translating Gathered Information into Functional Descriptions

Observations / Information from Records Applicant Statements Example Functional Description
Martin has gotten lost on the way to the clinic office numerous times, despite receiving written and verbal instructions.
 
I call him the day before and the day of each appointment as a reminder
On one occasion, Martin stated, "it took me two hours to get to your office because I kept forgetting the address and how to get there."
 
Regarding reminders for appointment times:
“I can’t keep it all straight. If you didn’t call I’d be all over the place.”
Martin has significant difficulty in remembering appointments and directions to the clinic to meet with this writer, despite numerous written and verbal reminders. On one occasion, Martin stated, "it took me two hours to get to your office because I kept forgetting the address and how to get there." After he missed two appointments, the writer began calling him the day before and the day of an appointment and Martin states, “I can’t keep it all straight. If you didn’t call I’d be all over the place.”
Becky’s sister states they tried to hire her in the family business doing administrative work, but they had to ask her to leave because she couldn’t use the phone system or their filing protocol. She states, “we tried everything to make it work, but we started to lose business.”
About past employment, Becky states, “I don’t know why I can’t get it together, I just get so overwhelmed and anxious that I can’t seem to remember what anyone said. Then it just feels like I’m doing everything wrong.”
 
Reports being fired from 6 jobs in the previous 3 years because “it wasn’t working out”
Becky has lost approximately six jobs in the past three years due to her overwhelming anxiety when she tries to learn new tasks and manage competing demands. She states, “I don’t know why I can’t get it together, I just get so overwhelmed and anxious that I can’t seem to remember what anyone said. Then it just feels like I’m doing everything wrong.” Her sister corroborates this, as she tried to hire Becky in the family business as an administrative assistant. However, they had to ask her to leave because she couldn’t use their phone system or file paperwork correctly. Her sister adds, “we tried everything to make it work, but we started to lose business.”
When interviewing Peter, I frequently re-phrase the questions as he appears confused.
 
Records document that he has a home health aide that takes care of cleaning his apartment, shopping, and cooking. Records state that Peter “needs extensive support managing multi-step tasks in his daily living.”
Peter works two hours per day, two days a week at a supportive employment placement where he has a job coach with him. He states, “I like this job. I get confused sometimes, but they help me a lot. Before I had my coach I messed up a lot.”
 
Peter requires extensive supports at home and work in order to complete multi-step tasks, and frequently appears confused and asks this writer to re-phrase questions during interviews. Peter has a job coach at Home Store, where he works two hours per day, two days a week. Peter states, “I like this job. I get confused sometimes, but they help me a lot. Before I had my coach I messed up a lot.” Peter also requires significant supports at home from a home health aide, who cleans his apartment, shops for food, and cooks meals. Records from Health Aide, Inc. document, “ needs extensive support managing multi-step tasks in his daily living.”
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SOAR Tip:  Remember to document any supports an applicant receives at home or at work in order to understand and remember information, such as leaving post-it notes around the house with instructions or reminders, or having a job coach (i.e. supported employment) at work.