Executive functions are the abilities of the
- Planning, organization and problem solving
- Reaction inhibition
- Distractibility control
- Distractibility (differentiation of relevant / irrelevant stimuli)
- Task switching / set shifting
Whereas inhibition is neurophysiologically regulated in the striatum (for review, see⇒ Neurophysiological correlates of inhibition problems and impulsivity in ADHD), planning and problem solving are processed by the dlPFC.
The dlPFC houses the working memory function, which is an important tool in planning and problem solving.
Effortful control seems to describe a similar construct to executive functions.
Executive problems have a greater negative impact on Quality of Life and daily functionality of affected individuals than delay-related behavior and emotional dysregulation, according to one study. Executive problems can be improved ADHD medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.
7.1. Problems organizing tasks and activities
Specific to ADHD is the impairment to perform a preconceived future directed action. Problems organizing tasks and activities are one of the 9 most accurate symptoms of ADHD in adults.
- Life is like a string of unfinished projects
- Lack of overview when organizing tasks (in children as well as in adults)
- Important and unimportant can be poorly separated (for adults)
Disorder in the apartment
- Possibly overcompensation through meticulous order, because disorder is the inner enemy (see also perfectionism)
- Throwing things away is difficult (see also Messi tendency, Hoarding)
Nevertheless, there is no ADHD-typical planning (mis)behavior. The planning behavior seems to differ greatly from person to person.
7.2. Not (being able to) keep promises or commitments made to others
Not (being able to) keep promises or commitments to others is said to be another of the 9 most accurate symptoms of ADHD in adults.
- Appointments/commitments are forgotten (see also forgetfulness)
- Appointments/agreement are not remembered
- Life without the (cell phone) calendar would be impossible
- Everything must be noted immediately
- What is not immediately noted is already almost forgotten
7.3. Problems doing things in the right order
Problems doing things in the right order is also said to be one of the 9 most accurate symptoms of ADHD in adults.
7.4. Neurophysiological correlates of executive problems
Executive problems are the result of dysfunction of working memory located in the dorsolateral PFC.
Dopamine / norepinephrine deficiency in dlPFC leads to the described executive problems in ADHD.
See more at ⇒ Neurophysiological correlates of working memory problems in ADHD
7.5. Executive problems as symptoms of stress
Chronic stress causes decreased levels of dopamine in the PFC, which impairs working memory function in the dlPFC and thus executive functions. Acute stress causes limitations of executive functions via increased dopamine levels, which impaired the dlPFC.
For more on the development of neurotransmitter and hormone systems by chronic stress (stressful periods), see ⇒ Alteration of the dopaminergic system by chronic stress In⇒ Prolonged chronic stress in the article ⇒ Stress damage caused by early/long-lasting stress in the section ⇒ Stress.
More on the alteration of hormone and neurotransmitter systems over different stress phases ⇒ Breakdown of neurotransmitter systems across stress phases In the article ⇒ The stress systems of humans - basics of stress in the chapter ⇒ Stress.
For more on the impairment of brain functions in the presence of nonoptimal neurotransmitter levels (reversed U), see ⇒ Optimal neurotransmitter level = optimal information transmission in the article ⇒ Neurotransmitters during stress in the chapter ⇒ Stress.