'NICOLA' - the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing - will follow the lives of 8,500 over 50s as they grow older.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.The project was officially announced by Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann on Wednesday.Between 1982 and 2062 it's estimated that the proportion of over 50s will increase by 70% to 45% of the total population. That's an unprecedented demographic change that will have major ramifications for society.Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keating.Commenting on the project, Northern Ireland's Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keating, said: "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."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".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.It is expected that all participants will complete the home interview and health assessment by April 2015, with the first findings from the study due later in the year.