Queen’s University Study Highlights Challenges Facing Older People in Northern Ireland
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast today (27 November) launched the preliminary findings of the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing (the “NICOLA” Study).
Life expectancy is increasing in Northern Ireland meaning that the fastest growing section of our population is older people. The NICOLA study is the largest public health study in Northern Ireland looking at the health, lifestyles and socioeconomic circumstances of more than 8000 people over 50 years of age, over a ten year period, building on existing collaborations with sister studies in England and the Republic of Ireland.
The findings from the first interview survey, published today, show that a quarter of participants live alone and over half of those aged over 75 live alone, which could have serious health implications for this population. Living alone is twice as common in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas and three times as common in larger urban areas than in most rural areas. Loneliness is a major public health (and welfare) issue and its effects on the health of older people are as large as the effects of many biological risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.
On all measures of self-reported health, married or co-habiting participants reported the best health. All measures of self-reported health showed a clear socio-economic status gradient; in general, the excess poor health between the most and least affluent areas was around 50%. Generally, the health of participants living in the most rural areas was about 4-5 percentage points better than those in the most urban or intermediate areas.
The promotion of active healthy ageing is a global challenge and one that is being grasped by all government departments. The implementation of the current Active Ageing Strategy aims to ensure that Northern Ireland is an age-friendly region in which people, as they get older, are valued and supported to live actively to their fullest potential; and that the inequalities that shown in the NICOLA study are reduced.
Professor Frank Kee, Director of the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast and lead author said: “Although today’s report presents only preliminary findings covering older people’s social circumstances, their health behaviours and use of health services, there are some important results that have a bearing on government policies.
"As the study develops its value to policy makers will increase and will help government to evaluate a range of policies and keep us focussed on what counts for older people.”