Exploring executive functions – what are they and how do I know I need help with them?


Exploring executive functions – what are they and how do I know I need help with them?

Well, you have executive functioning to thank for that. Difficulty paying attention sometimes? That’s most likely down to blips in executive functioning. Staying focused on tasks? Executive functioning. As you can see, it is an extremely important function for most of your daily life, therefore it is beneficial to have an understanding of what it is, and what can happen if it’s not working the way it should.

Overall, executive functioning refers to the higher-level skills your brain employs in order to control and manage various cognitive abilities and behaviours. Picture your executive functions as the boss of a company, keeping everyone in check, and ensuring everyone is working on the things that they should bee, to ensure the company runs smoothly and efficiently. Executive function can largely be divided into organisation and regulation. Organisation focuses on facets such as attention, planning, abstract thinking, and problem-solving. Meanwhile, regulation focuses on self-control, regulation of emotions, decision-making, reasoning, etc. As you can see, the executive functions have a lot to do! You would think that with such important responsibilities, executive functioning is something we are perhaps born with. However, they don’t start to develop until about 3/4 years old and continue developing long into adolescence and early adulthood.

From a multitude of research, executive functioning has been largely linked to the frontal lobes of the brain. This is the area located just above your eyes, and these lobes typically account for around 40% of our brain! However, when this area gets damaged, perhaps from an accident, or having a stroke, our executive functions can become impaired, and because executive functioning is responsible for so many cognitive domains, deficits can appear in a number of different areas. For example, individuals may be unable to multitask, and they may find it hard to organise or plan their life. They may also exhibit emotional-behavioural changes, such as mood swings, or disinhibition. Understandably, impaired executive functioning can disrupt an individual’s life significantly, and the life of those close to them. Therefore, it can be important to seek support to help assess and treat the problems that may be experienced.

At The London Neurocognitive Clinic, we are able to conduct a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, which can identify strengths and difficulties in a variety of cognitive domains. By identifying where there may be difficulties, we can tailor a neurorehabilitation plan specific to the individual that allows us to help in the best way possible. This may include therapies to help modify behaviours or routines to make them more accommodating to individual struggles. For example, breaking up tasks into smaller pieces, making lists of tasks, or writing down important things to remember. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be beneficial for dealing with the negative or challenging emotions that executive function difficulties can cause.

Therefore, if you find yourself struggling more with tasks than usual, seeing a neuropsychologist can be a great first step to identifying and modifying any challenges.

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