PLoS One. 2022 Nov 8;17(11):e0277406. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0277406. eCollection 2022.
A broad set of factors are associated with falling (e.g., age, sex, physical activity, vision, health), but their co-occurrence is understudied. Our objectives were to quantify the number and pattern of co-occurring fall-related factors. Data were obtained from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (N = 1,957, 60-85 years). Twenty fall-related factors were included (based on previous research), covering a wide range including cognitive, motor, sensory, health, and physical activity measures. The number and pattern of co-occurring fall-related factors were quantified with logistic regression and cluster analyses, respectively. Most participants (59%) had ≥4 fall-risk factors, and each additional risk factor increased the odds of reporting difficulty with falling by 1.28. The identified clusters included: (1) healthy, (2) cognitive and sensory impaired, and (3) health impaired. The mean number of co-occurring fall-related factors was 3.7, 3.8, and 7.2, for clusters 1, 2, and 3, respectively (p<0.001). These observations indicate that co-occurrence of multiple fall-risk factors was common in this national sample of U.S. older adults and the factors tended to aggregate into distinct clusters. The findings support the protective effect of physical activity on fall-risk, the association between gait speed and falls, and the detrimental effect of health-related factors on difficulty with falls (e.g., arthritis, prescription medications). Cluster analyses revealed a complex interplay between sex and BMI that may alter the role of BMI in the etiology of falls. Cluster analyses also revealed a large detrimental effect of health-related factors in cluster 3; it is important to extend current fall interventions (typically focused on balance, flexibility, strength, cognitive, fear factors) to include health-related interventions that target factors such as BMI and arthritis.