Derry academic leads study into ageing in North

Dr Mark O'Doherty.

Dr Mark O'Doherty.

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A Derry academic is helping to lead a study into ageing as part of Northern Ireland’s largest public health research project.

Dr Mark O’Doherty (32) is part of a team spearheading ‘NICOLA’ – the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing - which is seeking 682 participants from the Derry area.

The study will help provide the basis for future government policy by following the lives of 8,500 over-50s across Northern Ireland as they grow older and providing a greater understanding of the ageing process in the North.

The former St. Columb’s College pupil, who completed a PhD in epidemiology, will focus his research on understanding disability and how it is reported in older adults, and its contribution to inequalities in health.

Dr O’Doherty told the ‘Journal’ that accurate measurement of disability is essential for informing policy, anticipating demand for services, and programme planning.

“We live in a rapidly ageing society which requires policy makers, service providers and older adults alike to recognise the need to create a high quality of life for our ageing population,” he said.

“Sustainability of social security systems, such as disability benefit programmes and pensions is being challenged by the process of population ageing.

“The effective and efficient implementation of these policies could both maximise provision of benefits whilst offsetting the losses of income that are due to disability, while preventing potential misuse of programmes by those who do not qualify.”

Dr O’Doherty explained that there are currently a number of disability programmes in Northern Ireland including Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Incapacity Benefit.

“Northern Ireland has the highest claimant rates in all cases, but the reasons for this are poorly understand,” he added. “Additionally, Northern Ireland also remains one of the least healthiest regions. Consequently, these variations in benefit receipt and the divergence of policies between the devolved health services of the four UK nations, along with the largely insurance based systems in the Republic of Ireland, contributes to a unique ‘natural experiment’ on which comparative analysis can be conducted.”

For those who are selected, 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. Follow-up interviews will be conducted every two years and all information will be confidential.