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"Executive Function" is a term used to describe a set of mental processes that helps us connect past experience with present action. We use executive function when we perform such activities as planning, organizing, strategizing and paying attention to details. Some of the problems associated with compromised Executive Function include:

*difficult to plan projects
*hard to estimate how much time projects will take
*difficult to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner
*hard to memorize and retrieve information from memory
*difficult to remember information while doing something with it, like remembering a phone number while dialing it.

According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders:
Executive functions are high-level abilities that influence more basic abilities like attention, memory and motor skills. Most people who study these abilities agree that the frontal lobes of the brain play a major role in executive function. People with frontal lobe injuries have difficulty with the higher level processing that underlies executive functions. Because of its complexity, the frontal cortex develops more slowly than other parts of the brain, and not surprisingly, many executive functions do not fully develop until adolescence. Some executive functions also appear to decline in old age, and some executive function deficits may be useful in early detection of mild dementia.
Read the complete entry here.

Executive Function covers so many areas, it would be nearly impossible for one test to cover all of them. However, there are many tests and batteries of tests that professionals use to measure Executive Function and/or its loss. One of these is the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS; Delis, Kaplan, & Kramer, 2001). This system was designed exclusively for the assessment of executive functions, including:

*flexibility of thinking,
*inhibition,
*problem solving,
*planning,
*impulse control,
*concept formation,
*abstract thinking, and
*creativity.

The system utilizes a "cognitive-process approach," and it is composed of nine stand-alone tests. These tests provide a standardized assessment of executive functions in children and adults between the ages of 8 and 89. Proponents of the D-KEFS believe it also holds much promise as a research tool for increasing knowledge of frontal-lobe functions.

We'll look at some other tests of Executive Function, including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, in another post.

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