BACKGROUND: Falls are a major problem associated with ageing. Yet, fall-risk classification models identifying older adults at risk are lacking. Current screening tools show limited predictive validity to differentiate between a low- and high-risk of falling.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims at identifying risk factors associated with higher risk of falling by means of a quality-of-life questionnaire incorporating biological, behavioural, environmental and socio-economic factors. These insights can aid the development of a fall-risk classification algorithm identifying community-dwelling older adults at risk of falling.

METHODS: The questionnaire was developed by the Belgian Ageing Studies research group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and administered to 82,580 older adults for a detailed analysis of risk factors linked to the fall incidence data. Based on previously known risk factors, 139 questions were selected from the questionnaire to include in this study. Included questions were encoded, missing values were dropped, and multicollinearity was assessed. A random forest classifier that learns to predict falls was trained to investigate the importance of each individual feature.

RESULTS: Twenty-four questions were included in the classification-model. Based on the output of the model all factors were associated with the risk of falling of which two were biological risk factors, eight behavioural, 11 socioeconomic and three environmental risk factors. Each of these variables contributed between 4.5 and 6.5% to explaining the risk of falling.

CONCLUSION: The present study identified 24 fall risk factors using machine learning techniques to identify older adults at high risk of falling. Maintaining a mental, physical and socially active lifestyle, reducing vulnerability and feeling satisfied with the living situation contributes to reducing the risk of falling. Further research is warranted to establish an easy-to-use screening tool to be applied in daily practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2210
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2022


  • Fall incidence
  • Machine learning
  • Older adults
  • Risk factors


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing fall risk factors in Belgian older adults through machine learning: a data-driven approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this