Watch: 2016 Funded Researcher Elena Portacolone

Sociologist Elena Portacolone, assistant professor at the Institute for Health & Aging and Pepper Center Scholar at UCSF, is very passionate about the care of older adults, especially those living alone with Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment. She recently received the Alzheimer’s Association new investigator grant award which will fund her research into the experience of local community seniors struggling with memory loss.

Portacolone says her research is exploring what older adults go through when they live on their own without any services available to help them. She hopes her findings will shed light and raise awareness about this problem in the local community. Research points out that about 25 percent of adults over the age of 70 have some form of cognitive impairment, and living alone at that age has been increasingly common.

Portacolone explains that nearly a third of adults age 65 and older (11.3 million individuals) live alone in the U.S. As part of her PhD research project, she volunteered to deliver food with Meals on Wheels to seniors in San Francisco, and was shocked to discover how many of them live alone. She later observed the societal bias about older adults being a burden on the system rather than an asset. The implications of that are very serious, she says, as stigmas reinforce estrangement, and create a society which ignores the needs of the elderly.

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