‘Executive dysfunction‘ is not, perhaps, a particularly well known term, but the effects of brain injury that it covers are very common indeed. It is used to collectively describe impairment in the ‘executive functions’ – the key cognitive, emotional and behavioural skills that are used to navigate through life, especially when undertaking activities and interacting with others.
Although executive dysfunction is a common problem among many brain injury survivors, it is most commonly experienced following an injury to the frontal lobe.
The importance of executive functions is shown by the difficulties caused when they don’t work properly and someone has problems with executive dysfunction. Since the executive functions are involved in even the most routine activities, frontal injuries leading to executive dysfunction can lead to problems in many aspects of life.
Here we list the most common effects of executive dysfunction, with some examples of common issues that brain injury survivors can face:
Difficulties with motivation and organisation
- Loss of ‘get up and go’, which can be mistaken for laziness
- Problems with thinking ahead and carrying out the sequence of steps needed to complete a task
- Difficulty in evaluating the result of actions and reduced ability to change behaviour or switch between tasks if needed
Poor problem solving
- Finding it hard to anticipate consequences
- Decreased ability to make accurate judgements or find solutions if things are going wrong
- Acting too quickly and impulsively without fully thinking through the consequences, for example, spending more money than can be afforded
- Difficulty in controlling emotions which may lead to outbursts of emotion such as anger or crying
- Rapid mood changes may occur, for example, switching from happiness to sadness for no apparent reason
Difficulties in social situations
- Reduced ability to engage in social interactions
- Finding it hard to initiate, participate in, or pay attention to conversations
- Poor judgement in social situations, which may lead to saying or doing inappropriate things
- Finding it harder to concentrate
- Difficulty with learning new information
- Decreased memory for past or current events, which may lead to disorientation
Find out more
If you or someone you care for is affected by executive dysfunction, it is important to seek support. Speak to your doctor about your symptoms, and ask about referral to specialist services such as counselling, neuropsychology and rehabilitation.
You can find out more and get tips and strategies to help manage your condition on our executive dysfunction after brain injury page.
Headway groups and branches can offer support in your area, and you can contact our helpline if you would like to talk things through.