A social community helps widows be resilient and stay healthy

Excerpt: Social support and social participation can help widows be resilient after the death of a spouse and gradually move from grieving to healing. While social isolation increases the risks of premature death and disability for a surviving spouse, staying socially engaged through group programs, activities, outings and shared dining in a retirement community can improve health and quality of life in the years ahead.


International Widows Day,* observed on June 23, was launched by the United Nations General Assembly almost a decade ago. This special day aims to ensure that surviving spouses are given the support they need to cope with their loss and make a successful transition to an active, healthy life as time passes.

Social support helps with coping

Social support and social participation are key factors in helping widows respond in resilient ways* to the death of a spouse, which can improve their health outcomes over time, according to a 2017 study in Qualitative Health Research. Social engagement offered these women the opportunity to provide and receive social support, and to develop a balance between grieving and moving forward in their lives.

Social support also reduces the effects of both chronic and acute stress* after the death of a spouse, reported a Journal of Advanced Nursing study. Family, friends, support groups or a built-in network of support in a retirement community can all be helpful in providing a widow with vital social support during the weeks and months after the death of a spouse.

Staying social boosts health

Getting strong social support is a first step in moving from grieving to healing. To stay healthy, the next step is for bereaved spouses to maintain strong social ties, be socially active and avoid isolation in the years ahead. Older adults, and especially widows, are at increased risk of being socially isolated or lonely,* which can have significant health consequences, reports McMaster University.

Older adults who are lonely have an increased risk of dying prematurely,* according to a Social Science and Medicine study. They are also more likely to experience a decline in their mobility and activities of daily living (ADL),* reports Archives of Internal Medicine.

Socializing in a retirement community

A study in Health Psychology found that widows who created and maintained new social networks and close emotional relationships* were more resilient in terms of their mental and physical health.

Living in a retirement community gives older adults, who have lost a spouse and may be living on their own, a solution to some of the challenges they may face as they age, including feelings of social isolation.

Chartwell Retirement Residences makes it easy for residents to remain socially engaged through a wide variety of programs and activities such as walking groups, bridge nights, education courses, and book clubs. Download a sample activity calendar to learn more about the programs, activities and outings offered to residents.

*The following sources provided references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. United Nations. “International Widows Day.” (2019), online: https://www.un.org/en/events/widowsday/
2. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Resilience among Nepali widows after the death of a spouse: “That was my past and now I have to see my present.” (2017)
3. Kaunonen, Marja, Tarkka, Marja-Terttu. “Grief and social support after the death of a spouse.” (2001), online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.01220.x
4. McMaster University. “Loneliness and social isolation are important health risks in the elderly.” (2016), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/professionals-blog/2016/04/08/loneliness-and-social-isolation-are-important-health-risks-in-the-elderly
5. University of Chicago. “Loneliness, health and mortality in old age: A national longitudinal study.” (2011), online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953612000275
6. University of California, San Francisco. “Loneliness in older persons: a predictor of functional decline and death.” (2012), online: https://reference.medscape.com/medline/abstract/22710744
7. American Psychological Association. “The effects of widowhood on physical and mental health, health behaviours and health outcomes: The Women’s Health Initiative.” (2003), online: https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/hea-225513.pdf