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. She is a also a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and the Center for Ethnographic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
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 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.
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 older adults living alone with cognitive impairment.