Elena Portacolone, PhD, MBA, MPH
Dr. Portacolone is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Institute for Health and Aging at UCSF, a Pepper Center Scholar at the Division of Geriatric Medicine at UCSF, and a Butler-Williams Alumna at the National Institute on Aging. At C Berkeley she is a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and the Center for Ethnographic Studies.
Her long-term career objective is to support the ability of older adults to successfully age in place. Her ultimate goal is to establish an interdisciplinary research program focused on the health, well-being, and the genuine social integration of older adults living alone, with an emphasis on ethnic/racial minorities. Dr. Portacolone was recently awarded a K01 from the National Institute on Aging and a New Investigator Grant Award from the Alzheimer Association to better understand the needs of an ethnical/racial diverse sample of older Americans living alone with cognitive impairment. One aim of this investigation is to advance the area of health disparities in cognitive impairment, an area where knowledge is extremely limited.
Dr. Portacolone completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Turin, Italy. After working in the corporate sector in the United Kingdom, she completed an MPH degree at School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, an MBA degree at the Haas Business at UC Berkeley, and a PhD in Sociology in the Department of Social and Behavioral Science at UCSF.
An original contribution of her research was the introduction of the notion of “precariousness” into the sociology of aging. The word precariousness evokes an intrinsic sense of personal and structural insecurity. In the case of older Americans living alone, precariousness derives from their need to prove that they can “make” it alone, at a time in their life when they may need services that are too expensive, limited, or difficult to access. At the same time, they may experience a decline in their economic and social resources, as well as in their physical and cognitive abilities. At a cultural level, there is a current emphasis on encouraging elders to be “independent”, apparent in discourses on successful aging. This emphasis may actually serve as a deterrent among some older adults living alone in terms of seeking help, which in turn increases one’s subjective sense of precariousness. Another important trend in her research was a high prevalence of cognitive impairment, which was noted among 30% of participants and confirmed in the literature. Based on this observation, the focus of her current research is an evaluation of older adults living alone with cognitive impairment.
PEER REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS
1. Portacolone E., Segal S.P., Mezzina R., Scheper-Hughes N., Okin R.L. A Tale of Two Cities - The Exploration of the Trieste Public Psychiatry Model in San Francisco. Culture Medicine Psychiatry In Press.
2.Portacolone, E., and J. Halpern. "“Move or suffer”: Is age segregation the new norm for older Americans living alone?" Journal of Applied Gerontology. In Press.
3. Portacolone E. Older Americans living alone: The influence of resources and intergenerational integration on inequality. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 2014.
4. Portacolone E., Berridge, C., Johnson, J.K, Shicktanz, S. Time to reinvent the science of dementia: The need for care and prevention. Aging and Mental Health 2013:1-7.
5. Portacolone E. Precariousness among older adults living alone in the United States. Journal of Aging Studies 2013;27:166-174.
6. Portacolone E. The myth of independence for older Americans living alone in the Bay Area of San Francisco: A critical reflection. Ageing and Society 2011;31:803-828.
7. Estes C, Portacolone E. Maggie Kuhn: Social Theorist of Radical Gerontology. International Journal of Sociology & Social Policy 2009;1&2:15-25.
Books and Chapters
1. Phillipson, Chris, Carroll Estes, and Elena Portacolone. 2009. "Health And Development: The Role Of International Organizations In Population Ageing." in Health and Development: The Role of International Organizations edited by A. Gatti and A.Boggio. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
1. Klinenberg, E., Torres, S., & Portacolone, E. (2012). Aging Alone in America. New York: Council on Contemporary Families.
2. Contribution to: World Health Organization and National Institute of Aging. 2004. "Directory of Research on Ageing in Africa: 1995-2003." Geneva.
Comelli,P. (2005). "Franco Basaglia sbarca negli Stati Uniti." Il Piccolo. Trieste: 5.
Lee, H. K. (2009). “Elder crime spotlighted after slaying.” San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco: B1-B5.
Nevius, C. W. (2011). “Aging leaves many San Franciscans lonely.” San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco:C1-C3.
Bunim, J. (2011). "UCSF Researcher Challenges Myth of Elderly Independence."
Retrieved June 14, 2011,
2012 “Precariousness among older adults living alone in the Bay Area of San Francisco: An ethnography.” Centre for Social Gerontology, Keele University, UK. (oral presentation)
2010 "The Myth of Independence for Older Americans Living Alone: A Critical Reflection." Center for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh, UK. (oral presentation)
2008 "Living Alone in Older Age in the US: The Tyranny of Independence and Its Relation to Social Isolation and Other Hardships." Royal Geographical Society Annual Meeting, London, UK. (oral presentation)
2006 "Modelli di Deinstituzionalizzazione delle Persone Anziane negli Stati Uniti: l'Esempio di On Lok a San Francisco." Dipartimento di Geriatria, Universita' di Milano, Italy. (oral presentation)
2011 "Is Age Segregation the Best Alternative for Older Americans Living Alone?" Gerontological Society of America, Annual Meeting. Boston, MA. (oral presentation)
2011 "Why Older Lesbians Living Alone Often Fare Better Than Other Older Women Living Alone?" Gerontological Society of America, Annual Meeting. Boston, MA. (oral presentation)
2011 "The Influence of Sexual Orientation in the Experience of Living Alone in Older Age in Urban America: Initial Findings." Women In Medicine Conference, Annual Meeting. Stowe, VE. (oral presentation)
2011 "The Influence of Housing Policies in the Wellbeing of Older Adults Living Alone in a Northern American City." Society for the Study of Social Problems, Annual Meeting. Las Vegas, NV. (oral presentation)
2011 "The Gray Side of Bowling Alone: The Tattered Social Networks and Secret Agendas of Older San Franciscans Living Alone." Society for the Study of Social Interaction, Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, NV. (oral presentation)
2011 "The Influence of Housing Policies in the Experience of Living Alone in Older Age." American Aging Association, Annual Meeting. San Francisco, CA. (poster)
2009 "The Gray Panthers: What Future Ahead?" American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. San Francisco, CA. (oral presentation with Carroll Estes and Brooke Hollister)
2009 "The Tyranny of Freedom Among Older Adults Living Alone and the Role of the Gramscian Organic Intellectual."Association of American Geographers, Annual Meeting. Las Vegas, NV. (oral presentation)
2008 "The Invisible Struggles of Older Americans Living Alone." American Anthropological Association. Annual Meeting. San Francisco, CA. (oral presentation)
2007 "The Gray Panthers: Reflections on 35 years of critical analysis and social action." Gerontological Society of America, Annual Meeting. (oral presentation with Carroll Estes)
2007 "Maggie Kuhn, Social Theorist: Legacy of the Political Economy of Aging and Critical Gerontology."Gerontological Society of America, Annual Meeting. (oral presentation with Carroll Estes)
REGIONAL AND OTHER INVITED PRESENTATIONS
2012 Living Alone in Older Age in San Francisco:Preliminary Investigations in the LGBT community.” Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Partnership. San Francisco, CA. (oral presentation)
2011 "Precariousness among older San Franciscans living alone." At Home When Growing Old, monthly meeting. San Francisco, CA. (oral presentation)
2011 ""Precariousness among older San Franciscans living alone: An Ethnography." Sociologist for Women in Society, Bay Area Symposium. San Francisco, CA. (oral presentation)
2011 "One-Head Households, Inequality, and Social Policy." Course on "Families, Inequalities, and Social Policies," Sociology Department, UC Berkeley, CA. (oral presentation)
2010 "The Challenges of Living Alone in Older Age in Urban America." Course on "Sociology of the Family," Sociology Department, UC Berkeley, CA. (oral presentation)