Course excerpt from Executive Functioning in Adults
Working memory is the fundamental and essential ability to hold information in mind for the purposes of completing a task. People who have this strength are good at keeping track of things, holding onto details, and making sure nothing is left out when the job is done. They are able to keep track of what they are doing and able to carry the task to successful completion without losing their way.
Those who have weak working memory skills have trouble with multi-step tasks. They have a hard time remembering directions, taking notes, and understanding something that has just been explained to them. This makes it difficult to remember simple things like grocery lists, or what you went into the other room to retrieve. Those who have weaknesses in this area are constantly making careless mistakes, forgetting important matters, losing things, and being teased for being scatterbrained (Dawson and Guare,2016, pp. 23-31).
Some of the outward signs of low working memory capacity are:
- Reservation during group activities, sometimes failing to answer direct questions.
- Finding it difficult to follow instructions.
- Losing track during complicated tasks and may eventually abandon these tasks.
- Making place-keeping errors, such as skipping or repeating steps.
- Showing incomplete recall abilities.
- Appearing to be easily distracted, inattentive, or “zoned out.”
- Having trouble with activities that require both storage (remembering information) and processing (manipulating information).
The following statement is adapted from Gathercole and Alloway, (2007):
Individuals with this characteristic can learn strategies to help them compensate by utilizing a variety of memory aids. It should be noted that many busy people use these strategies, regardless of the status of their working memory functioning. According to Nadeau(2016,p. 92), the following tips allow you to improve working memory skills:
- Carry a date planner or smartphone with you at all times to record notes.
- Avoid situations in which you receive information without the opportunity to write it down.
- Don’t write notes on scraps of paper, only in your day planner.
- Always take notes during meetings.
- Ask co-workers or loved ones to email you rather than call, this provides a written record.
- Avoid interruptions whenever possible. Close your door or send calls to voicemail.
- Use a voice recorder.
- Use visual prompts like sticky notes. Place reminder objects where you’ll see them by the front door, or on the front seat of your car.
- Develop a beeper reminder system on your watch or computer to cue you regarding scheduled tasks or events.
- Visualize or pre-rehearse a sequence of things that you need to do.
- Develop routines. They placed less demand on your memory.
This skill is closely linked with a number of other executive skills, like goal-directed persistence and sustained attention. It is difficult to hold a thought in working memory if you weren’t paying attention when the information was conveyed in the first place.
According to Hartmann (2016):
The first step in learning to remember things is to learn to pay attention in the first place. This is a particular challenge…When it comes time to find the car keys; they seem to have been swallowed by a denizen of the twilight zone. Combs and brushes disappear with regularity and it’s particularly distressing when a wallet or purse is constantly misplaced. The solution for this is to learn the concept of ‘original awareness’. As you set down the car keys, look for a moment at the top of the kitchen counter where you’re putting them and take notice of them there. When people can’t remember things, it’s most often because they failed to pay attention to them in the first place (p. 89).
If you have working memory challenges, it is best to structure your environment to build in as many cues as you can. Dawson and Guare (2016, pp. 129-131) give more specific examples of how to modify physical or social environments to manage weak working memory:
Strategies to remember things to take to work:
- Place the object in front of the door so you can’t open the door without picking it up, or, put it in my car the night before.
- Place a small whiteboard next to your purse or keys with notes. For example, “Remember your lunch.”
- Put your cell phone in your purse connected to the cable you are charging it with.
- Keep a second set of materials (for example, computer power cords in your office in case you forget to pack something on any given day.)
Executive Functioning in Adults is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that provides strategies to help adults overcome executive functioning deficits.
As human beings, we have a built-in capacity to accomplish goals and meet challenges through the use of high-level cognitive functions called “executive functioning” skills. These are the skills that help us to decide which activities and tasks we will pay attention to and which ones we will choose to ignore or postpone.
Executive skills allow us to organize our thinking and behavior over extended periods of time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. These skills are critical in planning and organizing activities, sustaining attention, and persisting until a task is completed. Individuals who do not have well-developed executive functioning skills tend to have difficulty starting and attending to tasks, redirecting themselves when a plan is not working, and exercising emotional control and flexibility. This course offers a wide variety of strategies to help adults overcome such difficulties and function more effectively.
Course #31-08 | 2018 | 61 pages | 20 posttest questions
CE Credit: 3 Hours
Learning Level: Introductory
Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678); and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).