Elena Portacolone, PhD, MBA, MPH



Dr. Portacolone is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Institute for Health and Aging at UCSF and a Pepper Center Scholar at the Division of Geriatric Medicine at UCSF. Dr. Portacolone is also an alumna of the Butler-Williams program at the National Institute on Aging and of the Health Disparities Institute at the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities.

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.

Dr. Portacolone’s ultimate goal is to establish an interdisciplinary research program focused on the health, well-being, and the 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.

An original contribution of Dr. Portacolone’s 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 a diverse sample of older adults living alone with cognitive impairment.


Honors and Awards

Health Disparities Research Loan Repayment Program, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities - National Institutes of Health, 2017
KL2 First-year Scholar, UCSF Clinical & Translational Science Institute, 2016
Silver Jubilee Scholarship, American Association University Women, 2010
Anselm Strauss Fellowship, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF, 2010
Carroll Estes Fellowship, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF, 2010
Graduate Dean’s Health Science Award, Graduate Division, UCSF, 2010
Virginia Olesen Fellowship, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF, 2009
Sigma Xi Scholarship, Sigma Xi, 2009
Soroptimist Fellowship, Soroptimist Association of Northern California, 2009
White Fellowship, UC Humanities Research Institute, 2009
Graduate Dean’s Health Science Award, Graduate Division, UCSF, 2008
Graduate Dean’s Health Science Award, Graduate Division, UCSF, 2007
Andrew Scholarship Fund, School of Nursing, UCSF, 2007
Sigma Xi Scholarship, Sigma Xi, 2007
Lynn Adamson Memorial Scholarship, Women Health Care Executives, 2007
Graduate Dean’s Health Science Award, Graduate Division, UCSF, 2006
Graduate Dean’s Health Science Award, Graduate Division, UCSF, 2005
LifeLong Medical Care Scholarship, LifeLong Medical Care, 2005
David Starkweather Fellowship in Health Services Management, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, 2003


Portacolone E, Rubinstein RL, Covinsky KE, Halpern J, Johnson JK. The Precarity of Older Adults Living Alone With Cognitive Impairment. Gerontologist. 2018 Jan 24.
Portacolone E, Perissinotto C, Yeh JC, Greysen SR. "I Feel Trapped": The Tension Between Personal and Structural Factors of Social Isolation and the Desire for Social Integration Among Older Residents of a High-Crime Neighborhood. Gerontologist. 2018 Jan 18; 58(1):79-88.
Portacolone, E. (In Press). On Living Alone with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Care Weekly. 2018.
Portacolone E, Johnson JK, Covinsky KE, Halpern J, Rubinstein RL. The Effects and Meanings of Receiving a Diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment or Alzheimer's Disease When One Lives Alone. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018; 61(4):1517-1529.
Portacolone E. Structural Factors of Elders' Isolation in a High-Crime Neighborhood: An In-Depth Perspective. Public Policy Aging Rep. 2018 Jan 13; 27(4):152-155.
Gershon RR, Portacolone E, Nwankwo EM, Zhi Q, Qureshi KA, Raveis VH. Psychosocial Influences on Disaster Preparedness in San Francisco Recipients of Home Care. J Urban Health. 2017 Oct; 94(5):606-618.
Portacolone, E., Abramson, Corey M.. What's new with old? What old age teaches us about inequality and stratification. Sociological Compass. 2017; 11(3):e12450.
Portacolone E, Segal SP, Mezzina R, Scheper-Hughes N, Okin RL. A Tale of Two Cities: The Exploration of the Trieste Public Psychiatry Model in San Francisco. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2015 Dec; 39(4):680-97.
Portacolone E, Halpern J. "Move or Suffer": Is Age-Segregation the New Norm for Older Americans Living Alone? J Appl Gerontol. 2016 08; 35(8):836-56.
Portacolone, E.. Older Americans living alone: The influence of resources and intergenerational integration on inequality. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 2014; 44(3):280-305.
Portacolone, E. . Living Solo in Late life: what does it take to elders older than 80 to remain at home, alone?. Aging Today. 2014; XXXV(Jan/Feb):1-3.
Portacolone E, Berridge C, K Johnson J, Schicktanz S. Time to reinvent the science of dementia: the need for care and social integration. Aging Ment Health. 2014; 18(3):269-75.
Portacolone E. The notion of precariousness among older adults living alone in the U.S. J Aging Stud. 2013 Apr; 27(2):166-74.
Portacolone, E.. New initiatives needed to address social isolation in America’s solo dwellers. Aging Today. 2013; (July/Aug).
Portacolone, E., Klinenberg, E, Torres S,. Aging Alone in America. New York: Council on Contemporary Families. 2012.
Portacolone, E., Phillipson, Chris, Estes, Carroll. (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. Reprinted in: Estes C, Chapman S, Dodd C, Hollister B, eds. Health Policy. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett;. 2012.
Portacolone, E.. “The myth of independence for older Americans living alone in the Bay Area of San Francisco: A critical reflection.”. Aging and Society. 2011; 31:803-828.
Portacolone, E., Estes, Carroll. "Maggie Kuhn: Social Theorist of Radical Gerontology.". International Journal of Sociology & Social Policy. 2009; 29(1&2):15-25.
Portacolone, E.. Contribution to: World Health Organization and National Institute of Aging. "Directory of Research on Ageing in Africa: 1995-2003." Geneva. 2004.
Elena Portacolone
+1 510 830-9309
3333 California Street, Rm 350J
UCSF Box 0646
San Francisco, CA 94118
United States