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U Center on Aging Study Helps the Newly Widowed Survive and Thrive

Feb. 15, 2005 — Losing a spouse is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person, but many widows and widowers adjust better if they learn new skills and receive social support, according to researchers at the University of Utah Center on Aging.

In a joint project with the San Francisco State University Gerontology Program, the researchers have designed both a study and a program to improve the quality of life of widowed men and women over the age of 50. The five-year research project is funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“We’re trying to find the most effective ways to help recently widowed people cope with their loss and the daily challenges that confront them,” said Michael Caserta, Ph.D., principal investigator and associate professor at the U Center on Aging, a universitywide interdisciplinary center located in the College of Nursing.

Titled “Living After Loss,” the study calls for 165 participants in Salt Lake City and the same number in San Francisco to attend 14 weekly group sessions led by faculty and trained facilitators.

The 90-minute sessions in local senior centers, libraries, and other convenient public locations will give participants a chance to share experiences and learn new ways to meet new needs and responsibilities. “This is not just for those who are having a hard time adjusting, but also those who are coping well,” said Caserta. “Everyone can potentially benefit from the opportunity to share experiences, as well as learn from each other in a supportive, non-threatening environment.”

Participants will have the added satisfaction of knowing that they are contributing to a study that will benefit many others in the future, said Dale Lund, Ph.D., co-investigator and Center on Aging professor.

Participants will be recruited using state health department data. They will be interviewed twice by phone during the 14-week period and complete questionnaires before and after the program.

In addition to Caserta and Lund, the U Center on Aging research team includes: Scott Wright, Ph.D., associate professor, project site director; Sarah Jane Obray, adjunct instructor, associate site director; Shirley Rossa, M.S.W., adjunct instructor, grief specialist; and William Dudley, Ph.D., research professor.