The overall purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the major findings from our research over the past 11 years on spousal bereavement among older adults in the United States. We began in 1980 with a longitudinal study funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) designed to describe, from a multidisciplinary perspective, the process of adjustment that follows the death of a spouse, examine factors that influence the observed outcomes, and identify potential focuses and strategies for intervention. A sample of 192 recently bereaved spouses and a control group of 104 currently married adults over the age of 50 participated in the study. Findings from this project were used to develop a second study, also funded by NIA, to examine the effectiveness of selfhelp groups in facilitating the bereavement adjustment process. Another sample of 339 recently bereaved spouses participated in this intervention study, with 241 assigned to self-help groups and 98 assigned to a control condition.
In the late 1970s, the National Institute on Aging recognized that little or no empirical research on bereavement had been completed that specifically focused on older adults. Although some studies had included older adults in their samples, there was no systematic attempt to learn more about their bereavement experiences until NIA established bereavement and aging as a priority for research funding. Our first study was one of three that the institute initially supported.