Queen’s has launched Northern Ireland’s largest ever public health research project. NICOLA – the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing – is hoping to provide the basis for future Government policy by following the lives of 8,500 over 50s as they grow older.
Officially announced by Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann, participants in the Queen’s University-led project, supported by groups such as the Public Health Agency and the Commissioner for Older People of Northern Ireland, will be randomly selected from across Northern Ireland over the next 18-months. The findings will leave a lasting legacy for society by enabling policy makers to base Government strategy upon research.
Professor Ian Young, Principal Investigator of the NICOLA Project, said: “Northern Ireland is undergoing an ageing revolution. Today there are more people aged under 16 than over 65. By 2037 that will have completely reversed with predictions that there will be 122,000 more over 65s than under 16s. That is an unprecedented change in our society and we need to start planning for it.
“For the first time, through the NICOLA study, Queen’s will give policy makers in Northern Ireland the same level of information as their counterparts in Great Britain and Ireland, and it will help shape at least ten major Government policies. ‘NICOLA’ will help us change the way we live for the better and those participating in the study will leave a tangible legacy for future generations.”
NICOLA consists of three stages, an interview conducted in the home, a questionnaire and a health assessment which will take place at the new Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility at Belfast City Hospital. The assessments, completed by registered nurses, will include blood pressure readings, brain function (thinking) tests, blood sample collection and a detailed eye examination using equipment not available elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Follow-up interviews will be conducted every two years.
Junior Minister Jonathan Bell said: “It is my privilege to help launch this important study today and to congratulate Professor Ian Young, Professor Frank Kee and their team for the work entailed in bringing it to this vital stage. I wish you well as you work to gather your data and to see the results in future years.
“It will be exciting to see how the data that is captured by NICOLA will assist Government to identify and deal with the barriers to ageing with quality of life here in Northern Ireland.”
Junior Minister Jennifer McCann said: “We must ensure ageing is a positive experience and not something to fear or be anxious about. The information obtained through this study will help us proceed on an evidenced based approach in the allocation of finite resources maximising independence, health and well-being at all stages of life.
“We are fortunate that more people are now living longer and, by sharing experience and skills across all walks of life, we ensure our strong sense of community which has sustained us in the past will continue to thrive.”
Queen’s Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McElnay, said: “The NICOLA study is a fine example of how Queen’s research has a real and lasting impact on our society. The information gathered during the study will be vital in informing Government policy and ensuring that Northern Ireland is well equipped to meet the challenges of an ageing population. I commend Professor Ian Young and Professor Frank Kee from Queen’s Centre for Public Health for their extraordinary vision in leading this study, and on the positive impact it will have for generations to come.”
Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keating, said: “Between 1982 and 2062 it’s estimated that the proportion of over 50s will increase by 70 per cent to 45 per cent of the total population. That’s an unprecedented demographic change that will have major ramifications for society. Meeting the challenges and opportunities of this change means basing good policy on good research – information which Northern Ireland currently lacks.
“NICOLA provides an opportunity to ensure that we are prepared to meet the needs of an ageing population. Apart from benefiting from a more detailed insight into their own health and wellbeing, people taking part in NICOLA will provide society with a treasure trove of data that will aid future generations. This is an incredibly worthwhile initiative and I encourage everyone randomly selected to seriously consider getting involved.”
Over the next few weeks the first potential participants in NICOLA will be contacted by letter and then approached by representatives from Ipsos MORI, the leading market research company which Queen’s University has appointed to conduct the home interviews. Everyone involved with NICOLA will carry ID clearly identifying their role with the project.
The 8,500 participants have been randomly selected from a database provided by Northern Ireland’s Health & Social Care Board. Participation is entirely voluntary and all data collected by NICOLA will remain confidential. Researchers will not have access to personal information.
It is expected that all participants will complete the home interview and health assessment by April 2015. The first findings from the study are due in 2015.
NICOLA is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies; the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); the Medical Research Council; Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D), a division of the Public Health Agency; the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI); and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
For more information please email NICOLA@qub.ac.uk or contact 028 9063 3078.