Elena Portacolone, PhD, MBA, MPH
I am a social scientist and a Butler-Williams and Pepper Center Scholar with extensive research and content experience in the area of long-term care, living alone in older age, aging in place, and ethnographic methods. My ultimate goal is to establish an interdisciplinary research program focused on the health, well being, and especially the social integration of older adults living alone. My research has focused on the role of policies to allow older adults to remain in their community as they age.
Starting 2004 I began an assessment of alternatives to nursing homes such as the Program for All Care for the Elderly (PACE) and the Eden Alternative. I conducted my first ethnographic fieldwork in the Bay Area of San Francisco with several organizations: two PACE programs and the Over 60 Health Center funded by the Gray Panthers in the 1970s. In 2007 I moved my attention towards the experience of living alone in older age, a phenomenon only partially studied. In 2008 I worked as a research assistant for Eric Klinenberg for his book Going Solo published in 2012 by Penguin Press. For my dissertation, between 2009 and 2011 I recruited 47 San Franciscans over 75 living alone from different ethnic and racial groups, sexual orientations, and neighborhoods. A number of community-based local organization helped me with recruitment. Data were collected through participant observation and ethnographic interviews. Grounded theory was used to create a theory of precariousness. Papers with my findings were published by Aging and Society, the Journal of Aging Studies,The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and The Journal of Applied Gerontology.
My current research activities include an investigation of older adults living alone with either mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease; a study of the social isolation and loneliness of older residents of high-crime neighborhoods; and an assessment of the emergency preparedness of older adults requiring a home care aide to live at home.
PEER REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS
1. 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.
2. Portacolone E. Older Americans living alone: The influence of resources and intergenerational integration on inequality. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 2014.
3. 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.
4. Portacolone E. Precariousness among older adults living alone in the United States. Journal of Aging Studies 2013;27:166-174.
5. 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.
6. 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)