What Is Executive Dysfunction?
Relationship Between Depression and Executive Function
A common reason executive dysfunction occurs is depression. This is because depression can affect several areas of the brain, such as the frontal lobe, which is where executive functions are primarily located. The signs and symptoms of executive dysfunction may vary depending on the severity of the depression.1
Additionally, damage to the frontal lobe from an injury or a congenital condition may cause difficulties developing and performing executive functioning skills. Executive dysfunction depression is a common condition that can be treated with therapy and medication.
Executive Dysfunction Symptoms
People with executive functioning disorder may come across as lacking willpower or drive; however, this is because they are not in control of their level of executive functioning skills. In other words, tasks, functions, and activities that come naturally to others do not come naturally to them.
Executive function problems look different with each person, but there are some executive dysfunction symptoms that are more common. Some examples of situations people with executive dysfunction deal with are detailed below.
Struggling to Manage Time Well
This may present difficulties meeting deadlines or goals, always running late, or losing track of time.
Difficulty Organizing and Planning
Someone with executive function issues may not keep an organized home or workspace and may struggle to plan.
Trouble Paying AttentionThis can present in children who face difficulties paying attention in school. In adults, this can be seen as trouble focusing during meetings or while working on projects.
Trouble Switching Focus and Shifting Between ActivitiesSomeone with executive dysfunction may get stuck on certain activities and not want to stop or switch to something else. Other common examples include:
- Not being able to remember details
- Finding it challenging to delay or withhold a response
- Struggling to prioritize work and responsibilities
- Difficulty self-monitoring behavior, progress, and emotions
What Causes Executive Dysfunction?
There are several potential executive dysfunction causes. Some people are born with high executive function, while some are born with weak executive function. Others may have a condition that causes executive dysfunction, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression.2
Other executive dysfunction causes include:
- Conduct disorder
- Learning disorders, including dyslexia or dyscalculia
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
How Is Executive Dysfunction Diagnosed?
This condition is not found in the DSM-5, and there is no diagnosis called “executive dysfunction disorder” or “executive functioning disorder.” However, some people who struggle with executive function problems may consider the term executive function disorder or executive dysfunction disorder.
There are some executive dysfunction tests that clinicians use to identify issues with executive functioning:
Conners Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS)The Conners Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS) is a multiple-choice test to screen children for ADHD symptoms, including trouble with executive function skills. Parents and the children’s teachers will also complete a questionnaire about the children’s behavior.
Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale (BDEFS)The Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale (BDEFS) is a tool that is available in two separate versions—for adults and for children and adolescents. This is a self-test that can be completed by oneself to help determine a possible executive functioning deficiency. The questions ask about organization skills, emotions, and other parts of executive function that people experience in daily life.
Comprehensive Executive Function InventoryThis executive functioning test can help illuminate specific areas of strengths and weaknesses with executive functioning in children aged five to eighteen.
Stroop Color and Word TestThis executive dysfunction test measures a person’s ability to keep automatic responses or impulses in check and test one’s strength in thinking before reacting, especially in the context of new situations. Children and adults can take this test.
How to Deal With Executive Dysfunction
Along with therapy, medication, and support from loved ones, there are some things people can try in their daily life to manage executive dysfunction.3
Regular meditation can boost concentration and focus. It can also improve sleep, anxiety, depression, and stress. Improving these factors can, in turn, improve executive function.
Break Down TasksWith a busy schedule or complex tasks to complete, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and abandon the tasks altogether. Instead, try breaking the workload down into smaller parts, focusing on one section at a time.
Don’t Hesitate to Ask for HelpIt’s okay to reach out for help sometimes. For example, when struggling to complete tasks, ask friends, family, or coworkers for some assistance. It can be hard to ask for help, but remember that most people would be happy to help.
Encourage YourselfIt’s important for people to practice self-compassion and forgive themselves for mistakes, even when forgetting important dates or struggling to stay focused can be frustrating or upsetting. Self-criticism will only worsen any negative feelings; instead, people can try to focus on their successes and let go of self-blame.
Take Breaks When NeededWhen wiped out of energy, people shouldn’t force themselves to keep going. It will likely derail their concentration and productivity, causing more issues than if they just took a short break. When possible, take ten minutes every hour or two to rest and reset.
Keep on Top of Your Sleep NeedsSleep can impact us more than we realize, especially for those who struggle with executive function. While getting enough rest won’t cure executive dysfunction, it can greatly impact one’s ability to focus, be productive, and have a stable mood. As a result, people may find it easier to complete tasks and regulate emotions.
Treatment for Executive Dysfunction
The above techniques can help manage executive dysfunction, but people may find the most useful executive dysfunction coping skills and treatment when working with professionals. Many people can improve their executive functioning with therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used for executive dysfunction because it teaches people to recognize unwanted behaviors and replace them with more helpful ones. It can also aid in teaching how to handle difficult emotions, cope with stress, and create routines to better manage time and daily tasks.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can also effectively treat executive functioning issues. It focuses on improving motivation and cultivating skills to help better deal with challenges in life.
Another effective treatment is holistic therapy, which aims to heal the mind, body, and spirit. Holistic therapy may include art or music therapy or other creative treatments that allow people to express themselves and release any negative emotions. These therapies teach healthy coping mechanisms to utilize when struggling with executive dysfunction symptoms while improving mental health.
Inpatient treatment is another treatment option. It takes place in a behavioral health center, where people stay at the center 100% of the time to get the intensive treatment they need. This type of treatment is usually best for people who have depression and executive function issues.
Outpatient programs are another great option, offering the intensive and focused care of inpatient treatment without jeopardizing one’s schedule. People spend some time each day at a facility and are able to continue their usual routine, giving them a chance to utilize the skills they learn in therapy.
How Therapy For Executive Dysfunction WorksOnce executive dysfunction is identified by a medical professional, they must find the underlying cause to guide treatment and recovery outcomes.
MedicationsSome people opt for executive dysfunction medication. For example, people with ADHD and executive functioning issues find that stimulant medications, such as Adderall and Ritalin, help with focus and control thoughts and emotions. People with dementia and executive dysfunction can use certain medications to slow the progression of dementia and temporarily lessen the effects of executive dysfunction.
Therapy can help anyone with executive dysfunction, regardless of the cause. Executive function therapy typically involves: 4
- Identifying triggers, such as fatigue, stress, and intense emotions
- Cultivating mindfulness of one’s thoughts and emotions
- Developing a plan for managing and improving executive functioning
- Communicating with loved ones in healthy ways
- Adapting to changes in life
Get Executive Dysfunction Treatment at A Mission for Michael
If you’re looking for an in-depth, personalized treatment to improve your executive function, A Mission for Michael can give you just that. Our highly-specialized team understands and acknowledges the uniqueness of each person’s situation and condition, so we ensure each treatment plan is personalized to your needs.
We’re fully equipped to diagnose and treat mental illnesses of all levels and provide high-quality, compassionate care to help you heal and live your best life. Contact us today to learn more.