A comprehensive assessment of risk factors for falls in middle-aged adults: co-ordinated analyses of cohort studies in four countries

Osteoporos Int. 2019 Oct;30(10):2099-2117. doi: 10.1007/s00198-019-05034-2. Epub 2019 Jun 15.


We identified demographic, health and lifestyle factors associated with falls in adults aged 50-64 years from Australia, The Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland. Nearly all factors were associated with falls, but there were differences between countries and between men and women. Existing falls prevention programs may also benefit middle-aged adults.

Introduction: Between ages 40-44 and 60-64 years, the annual prevalence of falls triples suggesting that middle age may be a critical life stage for preventive interventions. We aimed to identify demographic, health and lifestyle factors associated with falls in adults aged 50-64 years.

Methods: Harmonised data were used from four population-based cohort studies based in Australia (Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, n = 10,641, 51-58 years in 2004), Ireland (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, n = 4663, 40-64 years in 2010), the Netherlands (Longitudinal Ageing Study Amsterdam, n = 862, 55-64 years in 2012-13) and Great Britain (MRC National Survey of Health and Development, n = 2987, 53 years in 1999). Cross-sectional and prospective associations of 42 potential risk factors with self-reported falls in the past year were examined separately by cohort and gender using logistic regression. In the absence of differences between cohorts, estimates were pooled using meta-analysis.

Results: In cross-sectional models, nearly all risk factors were associated with fall risk in at least one cohort. Poor mobility (pooled OR = 1.71, CI = 1.34-2.07) and urinary incontinence (OR range = 1.53-2.09) were consistently associated with falls in all cohorts. Findings from prospective models were consistent. Statistically significant interactions with cohort and sex were found for some of the risk factors.

Conclusion: Risk factors known to be associated with falls in older adults were also associated with falls in middle age. Compared with findings from previous studies of older adults, there is a suggestion that specific risk factors, for example musculoskeletal conditions, may be more important in middle age. These findings suggest that available preventive interventions for falls in older adults may also benefit middle-aged adults, but tailoring by age, sex and country is required.

Keywords: Accidental falls; Middle-aged; Mobility; Population health.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control
  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Age Factors
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobility Limitation
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Urinary Incontinence / complications
  • Urinary Incontinence / epidemiology