Machine learning models for identifying pre-frailty in community dwelling older adults

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Background: There is increasing evidence that pre-frailty manifests as early as middle age. Understanding the factors contributing to an early trajectory from good health to pre-frailty in middle aged and older adults is needed to inform timely preventive primary care interventions to mitigate early decline and future frailty. 

Methods: A cohort of 656 independent community dwelling adults, aged 40–75 years, living in South Australia, undertook a comprehensive health assessment as part of the Inspiring Health cross-sectional observational study. Secondary analysis was completed using machine learning models to identify factors common amongst participants identified as not frail or pre-frail using the Clinical Frailty Scale (CFS) and Fried Frailty Phenotype (FFP). A correlation-based feature selection was used to identify factors associated with pre-frailty classification. Four machine learning models were used to derive the prediction models for classification of not frail and pre-frail. The class discrimination capability of the machine learning algorithms was evaluated using area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC), sensitivity, specificity, precision, F1-score and accuracy. 

Results: Two stages of feature selection were performed. The first stage included 78 physiologic, anthropometric, environmental, social and lifestyle variables. A follow-up analysis with a narrower set of 63 variables was then conducted with physiologic factors associated with the FFP associated features removed, to uncover indirect indicators connected with pre-frailty. In addition to the expected physiologic measures, a range of anthropometric, environmental, social and lifestyle variables were found to be associated with pre-frailty outcomes for the cohort. With FFP variables removed, machine learning (ML) models found higher BMI and lower muscle mass, poorer grip strength and balance, higher levels of distress, poor quality sleep, shortness of breath and incontinence were associated with being classified as pre-frail. The machine learning models achieved an AUC score up to 0.817 and 0.722 for FFP and CFS respectively for predicting pre-frailty. With feature selection, the performance of ML models improved by up to + 7.4% for FFP and up to + 7.9% for CFS.

Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that machine learning methods are well suited for predicting pre-frailty and indicate a range of factors that may be useful to include in targeted health assessments to identify pre-frailty in middle aged and older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number794
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2022


  • Aged
  • Elderly
  • Frailty/diagnosis
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Machine Learning
  • Pre-frailty


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