Shocking figures published in 2000, at the turn of the new millennium, revealed that more than a thousand people a year died in the UK after falling down stairs.
Thankfully, more recent figures published in 2011 showed that figure had fallen significantly, but remained worryingly high at 693. The decrease is attributed partly to better awareness of the dangers of stairs, but also to the growing use of stairlifts by elderly people with reduced mobility.
Prompted by the shocking figures in 2000, the Government launched a nationwide campaign highlighting the potential dangers from stairs. Thousands of resource packs and leaflets were distributed to healthcare professionals, carers and elderly people, backed by a national TV advertising campaign.
It warned of the dangers of loose carpets and rugs on or at the top of stairs and advised people to keep their stairs clear of clutter and well lit. Other advice included to use handrails, avoid worn and loose-fitting slippers, and never try to carry too much up or down stairs.
The campaign was welcomed by national charity Help the Aged, whose spokeswoman Hilary Carter said: "A fall down stairs can take away in a second older people's health and independence, so it is vital that simple precautions are taken to prevent such falls."
The headline figure of more than 1,000 deaths per year from falls on stairs included people of all ages, but the research showed that elderly people were most at risk due to factors including impaired vision, reduced strength and poor balance.
Alarmingly, the research also showed that 100,000 older people were treated each year following accidents on stairs, with more than half admitted to hospital with serious injuries. Two of the key causes of these accidents were objects left on stairs and carrying bulky, heavy or awkward items up and down stairs.
Researchers from Loughborough University found that a third of households regularly left objects on the stairs, and similar number recognised the dangers of carrying objects on the stairs but said they would take the risk. Dimly lit stairs and those with heavily patterned carpets were also found to be more dangerous.
The most common injury from a fall on the stairs was a broken hip, with hip fractures taking up one in five hospital beds. Tragically, a third of elderly people who suffered a broken hip later died as a result, while of those who survived only one in three regained their previous level of fitness and mobility.
Researchers also found that falls had serious psychological and social consequences, affecting people's confidence, independence, mobility and general wellbeing. They predicted that as more people lived longer, deaths from falls on the stairs would become an increasing problem in the UK.
Thankfully that prediction has not come true, due to a combination of factors. Firstly, increased awareness has certainly played a part, with assessments for potential dangers now a routine part of home care for elderly people. Advances in geriatric medicine also mean elderly people are more likely to survive a serious injury sustained in a stairs fall, such as a broken hip.
Home stairlifts have also become much more affordable and widely used since 2000, with many older people – especially those with reduced mobility – choosing to eliminate the risk of falling on the stairs by having a stairlift installed.
Even so, the 2011 figures showed that 369 women and 324 men died in that year as a result of falls on stairs, up by almost 12% on the previous year.
Dave Belmont, company secretary of Acorn Stairlifts, said: "There's no doubt that stairlifts save lives. Unfortunately too many of our customers still only install their stairlift after an accident or a near-miss.
"Our advice is that if you are at all worried about your safety on the stairs, or that of your loved ones, then it's time to consider your options for a stairlift. Our stairlifts are efficient, reliable, designed to take up little room, blend well with your home decor and can be installed with no mess in just a few days, even on curved staircases.
"Why wait for an accident to happen when the means to eliminate the danger is just a phone call away? Whatever you do, just don't fall."