Executive functions in homeless young people: Working memory impacts on short-term housing outcomes
Most homeless young people have experienced multiple adversities, with potential implications for the development of Executive Functions (EFs), higher-order cognitive processes important for adaptation. EFs have been identified as putative contributors to the capacity to exit homelessness, however, little research has investigated EFs in homeless young people. To address gaps in current knowledge, this study compared executive function performance between homeless and housed young people. Relationships between EFs and short-term housing outcomes were also explored. Sixty-eight homeless young people (16–19 years) and 37 age-matched housed young people participated in this study. Computerized EF tasks spanned the domains of working memory, set shifting/flexibility, planning, impulsivity/risky decision making, selective attention/inhibition, and verbal fluency. Homeless young people demonstrated worse performance than housed youth on several EF tasks, particularly working memory and impulsivity/risky decision making. Working memory predicted progression into more independent accommodation; those with longer working memory spans were twice as likely to have progressed to more independent housing rather than maintained their current housing status after six months. Poorer EFs are associated with youth homelessness and also with an individual’s ability to progress towards independence. As such, EFs should not continue to be overlooked by researchers and service providers. Emerging adulthood, as a sensitive period for EF development, is an opportune time for intervention to increase the likelihood of positive housing outcomes in homeless young people.
SOURCE: Charlotte E. Fry, Kate Langley & Katherine H. Shelton. “Executive functions in homeless young people: Working memory impacts on short-term housing outcomes” Child Neuropsychology, 24 June 2019.
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