When anyone declines in executive functions–breathing, eating, or digestion–there is usually a underlying medical issue. Adults can generally express their symptoms and concerns to their doctor. With babies, however, it’s more challenging because the infant does not have the capability to communicate what is going on internally. If your infant has declining executive functions, you should contact your physician immediately. Although it may be a minor health issue, it’s important to get prompt medical treatment to rule out issues that may lead to major complications.
Sometimes the body feels like it needs to shut down if it is in an environment of no oxygen –or at least if the body believes that it’s in an anoxic environment. Scientifically, anoxic environments are places where there is no oxygen, such as outer space, and that is what the child’s body believes is currently happening, declining in executive function so that the body can focus on getting oxygen before anything else. This is only relevant to your child if breathing has stopped. While this is the less likely version of the birth injury, if your child experiences anoxia, a decline in executive functions may happen at a more rapid pace.
Hypoxia or Birth Asphyxia
Hypoxia is a term used to describe an environment of limited oxygen. Often, hypoxia is also referred to as birth asphyxia as the baby’s oxygen supply is limited, though not completely cut off. This is the more common version of the birth injury as children endure difficult labor and may have trouble breathing afterward.
It isn’t at this point that a decline in executive functions may happen (though possible) –rather, if your child experienced a difficult labor and perinatal hypoxia (hypoxia before, during, and just after delivery), the child should be monitored for a declining executive functions to keep him or her as healthy as possible.
Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
Declining executive functions could also be a symptom of a very serious injury known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). This injury is known as cerebral hypoxia or as a hypoxic insult, an injury that describes the brain damage inflicted onto a brain from a hypoxic or anoxic spell. Declining executive functions are a symptom that the child has suffered severely from HIE and may accompany other symptoms such as low heart rate, seizures, a bluish color to the skin, and too much acid in the blood.
Ultimately, a child has a decline in executive functions in response to something that has shaken his or her bodily system so much that the system responds by shutting down certain functions. This is not something to be taken lightly, and if you observe these signs in your child, you need to contact a physician immediately so that your child’s executive functions can be preserved before they get worse.