The Greying Of Belfast

Posted on: June 18th, 2015


Did you know that in just over 20-years the number of over-50s in Belfast will increase by over 32,000? That’s bigger than Ballymena or Newtownards.

Northern Ireland and Belfast’s population is undergoing an ageing revolution. In 2012 just over 30% of the city’s population were over 50. By 2037 it will be almost 40%. The changes are even more marked at higher ages with the number of over-85s expected to double.

This unprecedented change will have a profound effect on everything from healthcare to pensions, public transport to fuel poverty. Unfortunately, however, policy makers don’t have enough information to plan properly for the needs of a ‘greyer’ Belfast.

That’s where you or someone you know can help. To understand the implications of an older city, Queen’s University is conducting Northern Ireland’s largest ever public health study, tracking the lives of 8,500 people – including almost 2,000 from Belfast – as they grow older.

Known as ‘NICOLA’ (the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing), the aim is to improve our knowledge about ageing and give participants a better understanding of their own health and wellbeing.

NICOLA participants are randomly selected from a database provided by Northern Ireland’s Health & Social Care Board. Participation is entirely voluntary and all data collected will remain confidential.

There are three stages: an interview, a questionnaire and a health assessment. First, participants will receive an invitation letter before being approached by representatives from Ipsos MORI (appointed by Queen’s to conduct the home interviews). Everyone involved with NICOLA will carry ID clearly identifying their role.

Secondly a paper questionnaire will be provided for completion and return in a pre-paid envelope. Thirdly, there will be a health assessment at Northern Ireland’s Clinical Research Facility at Belfast City Hospital.

The assessment, completed by registered nurses, includes blood pressure readings, lung function, thinking and memory tests, body measurements, physical measures, blood and urine sample collection, plus a detailed eye examination using equipment not available elsewhere locally.  Participants can choose to take part in all or some of the assessments.

A paper questionnaire regarding diet and nutrition will be provided for return in a pre-paid envelope. Follow-up home-based interviews will be conducted every two years with Health Assessments every four years.

NICOLA will help make arrangements to enable everyone to attend the health assessment. Travel expenses will be fully reimbursed and free car parking is available.   Participants will receive a discount voucher for a local café and theatre, and you may also bring a partner or friend for support.

NICOLA and its participants will change the way we live for the better. If you are contacted by NICOLA and want more information, please visit or contact 028 9063 3078.


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Engage with Age can accept referrals of individual older people aged 50+ who are at risk of loneliness and social isolation, inviting them to participate in group activities. Engage with Age offers one-to-one telephone befriending support for individual older people but does not currently provide in person visits to individual older people. To make a referral please complete the on-line Referral Form and submit or alternatively please print off a copy of the PDF Referral Form and send it to us. See also the Referral Criteria for details of who can be referred.

Referral Form Referral Criteria