How Does ADHD Affect Executive Function in Women?

How Does ADHD Affect Executive Function in Women?

"People with executive function issues may seem to frustrate easily, have difficulty following multi-step directions, and ultimately have trouble meeting long-term goals."

ADHD & Executive Function in Women

Many of the symptoms of ADHD are related to issues with executive functioning, those skills that help us plan, organize, analyze, and execute tasks. But as connected as they are, it’s important to point out that ADHD and executive dysfunction are not the same thing. Whether you struggle with ADHD or executive function issues–or both–explore how the two are connected and what makes them distinct. 

What is Executive Function?

Coined in the 1970s by neurosurgeon and professor Karl Pribram, “executive functioning” is mediated primarily in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and refers to the cognitive processes responsible for organizing thoughts and activities, prioritizing and completing tasks, and managing time efficiently.1 For adults, these skills are at work when they help us strategize for and manage projects, keep track of our belongings, regulate our emotions appropriately, follow a conversation, and establish a work-life balance.

Executive Function Skills List

According to Tom Brown, PhD, a prominent ADHD researcher involved in studying executive function, executive function skills include:2  

  • Organizing, prioritizing, and executing tasks

  • Focusing, sustaining, and shifting attention to the task

  • Regulating alertness, effort, and processing speed

  • Managing frustration and attuning emotions

  • Accessing working memory and recall capabilities

  • Utilizing self-regulation skills 

brillia logoImprove focus and clarity.
Reduce irritability and impulsivity.


Executive Function Issues vs. ADHD 

A key distinction between executive function issues and ADHD is that ADHD is a diagnosable condition and executive dysfunction is not. While ADHD refers to an inability to stay attentive in the moment, except during periods of hyperfocus, executive functioning issues refer to a sustained attention problem. Executive dysfunction points to weaknesses in the brain’s self-management system, and while people with ADHD struggle with this system, so do others with learning difficulties who do not have ADHD. Some executive function issues overlap with ADHD symptoms, such as the following:3 

  • Difficulty paying attention

  • Problems with self-control 

  • Difficulty managing emotions

  • Working memory deficits

  • Trouble with starting tasks and transitioning from one activity to the next

  • Difficulty organizing time and staying on track

  • Distractible and forgetful

  • Inability to multitask or plan for the future

  • Trouble following conversations or remembering names

However, ADHD also presents the following distinct symptoms:

  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to

  • Fidgets excessively

  • If hyperactive, interrupts often and talks excessively

  • Has the distinct ability to pay attention for long periods of time if passionate about subject

People with executive function issues may seem to frustrate easily, have difficulty following multi-step directions, and ultimately have trouble meeting long-term goals. And while genetics and environmental factors may lead to ADHD, experts say that executive functioning can be caused by a number of factors, including excessive stress, trauma, food and drugs, and poverty.4 Despite their differences, both ADHD and executive function issues can interfere with work performance and relationships.

How Does ADHD Affect Executive Functioning? 

Research shows that ADHD affects different parts of the brain, resulting in deficits of some executive functions depending on what part of the brain is affected.5 If the cerebellum is affected, then a person might have trouble with time management skills. If the striatum is affected, then they might have difficulty with working memory. These neurological impairments of the brain’s executive functions may also be the reason why some individuals who are good at paying attention to specific activities that interest them can also have an impairment in focusing on other tasks, despite their best intentions.

ADHD may present even more of a challenge when it comes to repairing executive functioning. While studies show that executive functions are similarly impaired between genders6, a study of girls with executive function issues showed that those with ADHD lagged behind those without ADHD in executive function improvement over time.7 By adulthood, many of the girls experienced better executive function performance overall, but those with ADHD did so at a slower rate, even if their ADHD symptoms remitted. 

There is evidence that proves healthy lifestyle factors may improve symptoms of ADHD and executive function. From getting adequate sleep and exercise to following a healthy diet, limiting screen use, and practicing mindfulness, there are many actions you can take if you struggle with inattention, irritability, emotional regulation and other hallmark symptoms of ADHD8 and executive dysfunction.9 Brillia is also an option, a non-prescription, homeopathic remedy that can be used by children, teens, and adults with a variety of diagnoses, or no official diagnoses at all, as long as they suffer from anxiety or hyperactivity, lack of concentration, or mood regulation. Many customers with ADD, ADHD, OCD, anxiety, autism, and other issues have used Brillia with great success. Find out more how Brillia works.

Brillia Newsletter:
Get a whole bunch of support right in your inbox.

References:1,2,3,4,5,6,7, 8,9
Back to blog
1 of 3