Executive dysfunction after brain injury can be harder to detect than some other forms of TBI side effects.
But executive dysfunction, even though it might be difficult to recognize at first, impacts everything from how you make plans to how you socialize with others.
To help you find out whether you are experiencing this side effect, we’ll look at the signs of executive dysfunction after brain injury.
We’ll also show you some effective ways to cope with the difficulties that come with executive dysfunction.
What Is Executive Dysfunction After Brain Injury?
Executive dysfunction refers to cognitive and emotional difficulties which normally occur after a frontal lobe brain injury.
Some executive functions include:
- Planning and organizing
- Making decisions
- Understanding social cues
There are many more executive functions than these four, but this should give you an idea of just how important they are for activities of daily living.
Most of us never think of these actions as “skills” since they seem to come naturally to us, but in reality they require complex brain activity.
When certain parts of the frontal lobe are damaged, any one of these skills could be impaired, and you end up with executive dysfunction.
Signs of Executive Dysfunction After Brain Injury
Executive dysfunction can affect every aspect of life.
The following are a few signs of executive dysfunction that can occur after brain injury.
Difficulty with Motivation and Initiation
Have you noticed that it is much harder to get motivated and start a new activity ever since your brain injury?
Don’t worry, you haven’t become lazy. This is one of the most common signs of executive dysfunction after brain injury.
Coping with Motivation Problems:
This effect can be damaging to brain injury recovery, because it makes it hard to find motivation to start or continue therapy.
But since continued therapy is one of the best ways to maximize your recovery, it’s crucial that you find something external to give you that motivation.
Maybe ask a loved one or friend to take you to your appointments even when you don’t feel like it.
Sometimes having someone else come to your house and pick you up can add that extra dose of motivation that your brain can’t quite supply on its own.
Advice for loved ones and caregivers:
This type of executive dysfunction can look a lot like laziness or depression. But it’s not.
The person’s brain can’t physically supply as much motivation as it used to, which means they might need a gentle push from someone on the outside.
Try reminding them to do a chore around the house, or to do some of their home exercises.
Often that’s all that is needed to help them get motivated again.
Difficulty with Organization and Planning
Executive dysfunction also means a person will have trouble planning out the steps needed to accomplish a goal.
As a result, they usually get overwhelmed and frustrated and give up.
Coping with Organizing Problems
Here are some ways to help yourself overcome organization problems after brain injury:
- Sit down with someone and come up with a step-by-step plan for whatever goal you might have.
- To stay on track, write it down and cross off every step you complete.
- Keep step-by-step checklists around the house. For example, have one in the kitchen so you can remind yourself of the sequence you need to follow to prepare a meal.
Inflexible Thoughts and Actions
Having a hard time changing plans or changing your mind are some other signs of executive dysfunction after brain injury.
Depending on how severe the brain injury was, this rigidity can manifest as angry or even violent outbursts.
It might seem like the person is just being stubborn, but again this is only an effect of their injury.
A neuropsychologist is the best person to help you find effective coping methods for this effect.
It will take a lot of work, but it is possible to learn how to handle unexpected circumstances again.
In addition, reducing stress, getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating healthy can all help reduce the severity of rigid behavior. As one brain injury survivor puts it:
“When I take care of my body, the physical factors that contribute to rigidity don’t have a chance to get a foothold.”
For family members, it’s important to be patient and help the person find healthy ways to deal with change.
Impulsivity and Social Difficulties
Finally, executive dysfunction after brain injury affects a person’s self-awareness.
This can make it difficult to anticipate the consequences of their actions and interact appropriately with others.
As a result, they are more prone to engage in reckless behavior and say things without thinking about how their words affect others.
Coping with impulsivity and social problems:
Come up with a special “stop and think” signal that someone can flash at you when you are doing something inappropriate or dangerous. This can help you retrain yourself to not make so many mistakes.
Family and friends should try to offer correction and advice in a non-judgmental fashion. Don’t make the person feel embarrassed for what they did and don’t dwell too much on their mistakes. Instead focus on the present.
Executive Dysfunction and TBI
Executive function is something we all take for granted.
As a result, we can easily forget that these skills require a healthy brain to perform them and make unfair judgments on those who struggle with them.
That’s why it’s so important to educate others about executive dysfunction, and help those suffering its effects find ways to cope.
Finally, it should be noted that executive dysfunction can manifest in many ways. Not everyone who has it will necessarily display all of these signs.
This means that rehabilitation will need to take a very individualized approach. Some strategies that work for one person might not work for another.
However, with the help of doctors and therapists familiar with executive dysfunction, many people have been able to find effective ways to manage their difficulties.
We hope this article helps you find the best ways for you to overcome executive dysfunction and live a fulfilling life after brain injury.