Executive Functions Used in Adulthood

Examples in this chapter highlight four types of developmental challenges of adulthood in which executive functions play an important role:

Selecting options and working productively, Managing a household and finances, Managing work while nurturing relationships, and Parenting and sustaining partnerships.

Each of these developmental challenges is ongoing and multifaceted, often changing and evolving in complex ways over the adult years. Some adults invest most of their efforts and interest in their job. They may labor through a long career in one setting, or they may make a series of lateral or vertical moves, some or all of which involve new demands on executive functions. For others, paid work is much less important. For them time with a partner or family remains of primary importance throughout their adult years. Still others may have few long-term relationships or stay mostly to themselves. For many of these adults, there is a continuing struggle to balance somewhat equally the demands and satisfaction of work or personal interests with the challenges and rewards of family and friends.

Regardless of the weighting of vocational and social interests, few maintain a static life situation over their adult years. Satisfactions and frustrations ebb and flow in work, in family life, and in social relationships. As one's children grow, each developmental stage brings new challenges, new pleasures, and new worries. One's parents get older and eventually die, a process long or short that can present multiple challenges as one struggles to simultaneously earn a living and, perhaps, raise children and sustain a marriage or other close relationship. For many, separation or divorce disrupts an established relationship, causing emotional, social, and financial upheaval. For some, health problems intervene in occasional or persistent ways that limit physical or mental capacities and may throw off balance relationships, work, and routines of daily life in ways never anticipated.

Throughout the vicissitudes of adult life, executive functions remain critically important. Those fortunate enough to enjoy generally effective executive functions are not likely to be always happy, but they are likely to have less difficulty in playing the cards that life deals them than are those whose executive functions are impaired by ADD syndrome.

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