What Is Executive Dysfunction? Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
Executive dysfunction refers to behavioral symptoms that negatively impact an individual’s ability to manage emotions, thoughts, and actions. Examples of executive dysfunction include poor focus, difficulty with working memory and information management, time management, and organization. Executive dysfunction can be present in a number of neurological conditions, although it is most prevalent in Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 3-17% of children from 3-17 years of age have ADHD from 2016-2019. Furthermore, a study from The Journal of Global Health reported that the prevalence of persistent adult ADHD was 2.58% and that of symptomatic adult ADHD was 6.76%, translating to 139.84 million and 366.33 million affected adults in 2020 globally.
These statistics make it easy to see why people should learn more about executive dysfunction, its causes, symptoms, and executive function treatment options available. Having knowledge about conditions that cause executive dysfunction, symptoms, and treatment options can be useful and empowering at any stage in life.
Executive Dysfunction Signs and Symptoms
People exhibiting difficulties with executive dysfunction will report some or all of the following signs and symptoms:
- Frequently misplacing papers, homework, and other work or school materials
- Easily distracted and forget to do tasks such as turning off the stove, blowing out candles, turning off the water, locking doors, etc.
- Find it difficult to manage time, make plans, multitask, or stick to your schedule
- Often forget appointments unless it is written down and there are well-placed reminders
- Find it challenging to get started on tasks, even for things you want to do
- Have a hard time keeping your office, workspace, and home organized
- Frequently lose or misplace personal items
- Find it hard to navigate frustration or setbacks
- Have difficulty remembering information or following directions that involve multiple steps
- Find it difficult to control impulses, emotions, and changes in mood, or behavior
- Have trouble putting complex thoughts or abstract concepts into words
Possible Causes of Executive Dysfunction
Medical professionals have not yet identified the precise cause of executive dysfunction; however, they’ve associated it with several conditions that usually affect the brain. Some of these include:
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Addictions – for example, addiction to alcohol or other hard drugs
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Brain Damage or Degenerative Brain Disease
Executive Dysfunction can also occur due to deterioration or damage to the brain area that facilitates executive functions. Such brain deterioration or damage can occur due to:
- Neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Huntington’s disease.
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Harmful toxins, such as carbon monoxide poisoning
- Cerebral hypoxia
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Care and Treatment
While the conditions listed above may require additional medication management, treatment for Executive Dysfunction include specific behavioral interventions focused on:
- Improving time management
- Reducing procrastination
- Organization skills
- Task management skills
Additionally, treatment for Executive Dysfunction also involves components of psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people learn how to identify, observe, and manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors better. CBT is helpful for treating symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are also common in disorders of Executive Dysfunction.
Elements Psychological Services is proud to offer a hybrid treatment approach to symptoms of Executive Dysfunction called Executive Function Skills Training. Our program, led by doctoral-level psychologists, combines the traditional “coaching” components and psychotherapy components to help our participants achieve maximum outcomes in performance and mood at home, school, and work. Please give us a call today to learn more about our approach and get started.