Resilience in an Uncertain World: A role for digital?

young lady and elderly using a mobile phone

Written by Dr Julie Christie, Dementia Support UK, HammondCare

What is going to happen?

I work with people who are affected by dementia and as a result have been exploring life with uncertainty for many years. The pandemic, our needs and responses have many correlations with the experience of dementia, uncertainty, and ambiguous loss. Uncertainty is part  of life, but it has been brought into sharp focus with the global pandemic. It is both the situation and our response which causes uncertainty on many levels with very real worries about health, welfare, and the future. As we focus on post pandemic recovery and changes to our daily lives our worries can be described as both concrete and vague, for example, ‘Will my business survive?’ or ‘Will this end?’. The growing presence of digital in many areas of our life: family, education, work, societal, environmental, and political spheres for example has been one of the biggest changes during this period. Digital provides tools for organising, engaging, and planning. For practical tasks but also for being creative, learning and having fun. In short, it has simply become part of life.    


The building blocks of resilience

My research focused on the experience of resilience in the lives of people with dementia as they adjusted to uncertainty, and real and ambiguous loss (Christie, 2020).  Each of us are different and can tolerate different levels of ambiguity and stress. Resilience is where we experience adversity and find new ways of coping to reduce the negative impact on ourselves and our lives, practically and emotionally. It is the mechanism that can help us move between the problem (the thing causing the uncertainty) to the solution. Digital resources are part of the toolkit we can use to promote resilience in everyday life. I found three building blocks of resilience in my research meaning making, having a sense of mastery and control over events in our lives and connectedness to people, places, and things. 


A role for digital

Meaning making involves making sense of who we are, what we are doing, where our lives are going, and our place in the world. We use digital resources every day to make sense.

We use the internet to search for information and apps of choice to source content. Voice recognition assistants provide answers to questions, reminders, and daily assistance, from checking the weather to checking health symptoms. The value here lies in reliable sources of information, in terms of performance, availability, quality of content, ease of access and usability. This also applies to social media and the responsible use of self-generated content for mass consumption.  

Meaning making is closely linked to having a sense of mastery and control over our lives. This involves feeling confident, having self-esteem, and knowing that you can have an impact. Digital technologies help us to manage our environments, and routines. The most prominent examples of this during the pandemic has been digital’s role in facilitating work and school routines. But daily examples include shopping, booking appointments, video conferencing, chat groups for peer support etc. As a result, we now have more options as to how to meet and interact. This is important for service development as we offer more choice to consumers through a mix of human and automated interactions. 

Finally, connectedness which is the most obvious example of the impact of digital. Feeling you are part of something, whether that is a family, a community, or a friendship group. It can also mean connection to places and spaces, nature and the natural world, and importantly knowing someone would miss you if you weren’t there. Think about how we used digital to stay connected to our family, friends, and work over the past year. Digital facilitated relationships, caring tasks, having fun, maintaining or findings new interests, feeling part of a larger whole be that a local group, global community ,or a political cause, helping others, and volunteering.  But also, practical connections for welfare, health, work, and education for example.  We also record our experiences on social media, unwittingly or intentionally creating a legacy of the story of ourselves, our lives, and this moment in time. 


Final thoughts

Digital provides a framework for our lives. The range of technology we own, and use is highly personal and readily available. If we can link this to the building blocks of resilience , building on experiences of life with uncertainty, we can offer something positive as we emerge from the experience of COVID-19.

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