Executive Function: Working Memory

The first executive function that I would like to talk about is our working memory. As an executive function, working memory is part of the human brain that everyone has.

So, let’s take a look at this part of the executive functions. 

What Is Working Memory?

Let’s start by talking about what is working memory. 

According to lexico.com, working memory is defined as being part of the short-term memory that is concerned with immediate conscious and perceptual and linguistic processing. In an article by Nelson Cowan, he explains that it “is the retention of small amount of information in a readily accessible form.”

An article from understood.org has a good way of putting in simpler terms. The author says that we can think of it as a sticky note in the brain. I felt like this is a good way to explain it. A way that makes it easy for everyone to understand. 

Working memory is often used interchangeably with short term memory. Although some consider them as two distinct types of memories. It seems as though both work with each other, at very least.

However, for this post I’m just focusing on working memory. 

In the ADHD Brain

Those with ADHD don’t have an easy time, when comes down to their working memory. Here are some examples how our working memory doesn’t work as well as it might for neurotypicals. The working memory in the ADHD brain works differently than in neurotypical brains.

If our boss or spouse or someone gives us a 3 or 4 step instruction, more often than not we will struggle to remember them 10-15 minutes later. It is something that I can relate to. 

We may get up to go to the kitchen with the intention of starting dinner or getting something. But often times we’ll completely forget why we went there in the first place.

These are just some things that affect us when our working memory isn’t working as well as we’d like. That we wished it wouldn’t be as difficult as it actually is.

Now, I know that these things do happen to everyone. However, the difference is that ADHDers often struggle with this a lot more often that those who are neurotypicals or those without executive dysfunctions. It is a constant and daily struggle.

One interesting fact is the part of the brain that is responsible for working memory is also responsible for attention and concentration. This definitely does explain why those with ADHD struggle so much more with working memory than most neurotypicals.

Ways We Can Improve

Much like a lot of things, there are things that we can do in order to improve and help our working memories and make our days a little easier, at very least. So, here are some suggestions.

One thing that can help is focusing on one task at a time instead of multi-tasking. Focusing on one thing at a time can definitely help. I have an easier time getting things done when I’m focusing on just one thing. Our working memories makes it difficult to multitask. So focusing on one task at a time should help us get things done.

Another thing that we can do is look into management tools that work for you. Find something to help you manage your time, being able to focus on tasks, something that will remind of tasks, appointments, and such. Try different ways to remember things. This may definitely take a lot of trial and error and may take time, but if we can find something to help us, then I think it’s definitely worth it.

Adding exercise into your routine can definitely help as well. Research has shown that exercise can help improve your working memory, improve your mood, and reduce stress. So why not give it a try? Start with something short and easy, like going for a five minute walk around the block.

Although not a complete list, these are just some suggestions that I have found to help with our working memory. It is a good place to start, when it comes to helping our working memory.

Final Thoughts

Working memory is just one area of executive functions that ADHDers often struggle with. As someone with ADHD, learning about working memory gives me a better understand how my brain works, explains why I struggle with remembering instructions 10 minutes later for instance, and be in a better position find tools to help me.

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