"What insulates people from grief and stress is a good sense of support. Be around for this person," Dr. Ken Doka told Reuters Health. He is a gerontologist at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle in New York and a senior consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America.
"Grief is extraordinarily stressful and when you're older and frailer it's harder to cope with stress," Doka, who wasn't involved in the new study, said.
The loss of a loved one might make for drastic changes in lifestyle habits. Doka advises friends and family to keep an eye on the surviving spouse to see how the person is handling those changes.
"Maybe they used to go for a walk every night but now they're not doing that anymore. Maybe they're not sleeping well, or maybe not taking their medications," said Doka. It helps to be there for them and to be supportive.
Spirituality and religion may also help some people get through a crisis, he said.
Doka said surviving male spouses may feel especially lonely because they don't know they need to be proactive about finding company.
"One of the problems widowers often have is the lack of support and one of the reasons is that very often the wife, historically, is the keeper of the kids," said Doka.
"She's the one that called the kids up and said they should come over for dinner, so it's not unusual that widowers will often say no one ever stops over any more, because they didn't realize someone else was calling and inviting them," he said.