Producer: What I learned about falls, why I’m changing one habit because of it

Stairs generic (Pexels)

It’s been decades, but I can still hear the sound echoing through the church.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was. Perhaps 11 or 12. Old enough to be trusted to deliver a whole tray of cookies and a pitcher of fruit punch to a Sunday School classroom.

I was walking down a set of concrete stairs when I stumbled. The tray and I both went tumbling down the steps, the metal pitcher making a horrible racket as it struck the concrete repeatedly.

The noise brought everyone running to find me in a heap, my gray corduroy jumper splattered with red juice and cookies everywhere. Fortunately, the only thing injured was my pride, but all these years later, I can still feel the embarrassment of that moment.

Falls can happen to anyone but are especially common and dangerous in older people.

According to the CDC, more than one in four older Americans suffer a fall each year. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.

Those statistics mean the odds are good that you know someone who has suffered a devastating fall. I certainly do.

My husband’s family has lost at least three loved ones to injuries related to falls. Our sweet church librarian died after falling down the stairs in the same church where I took a tumble. My dear aunt suffered multiple falls in her later years, including one that left her lying on the ground for hours before being found.

It’s not just older people at risk. My mom’s coworker died after falling down her basement steps. She was just in her 40s.

Yet, despite the very real risk that falls pose, most people don’t worry about them or take many steps to prevent them.

I’ll give you an example. Do you hold the hand railing when you go up or down the stairs? I know I didn’t before I began working on these stories. I’ve started paying attention. Most people don’t, including most of the older people I see. And the few older people I do see holding onto the railing should probably be taking the elevator! The railings are there for a reason. If we used them, a simple stumble might be just that, instead of potentially leading to a serious fall.

When my former coworker and friend Bob Shafer shared his experience on Facebook after suffering a fall while on vacation in Australia, I knew it would be a great story to share with our viewers.

Bob is a pilot and a self-proclaimed “safety evangelist.” His motto is, “If you mess up, ‘fess up so that everybody can learn.”

It’s a great motto when it comes to falls. While they happen suddenly by nature, hindsight is 20/20. Most people can quickly spot things they could have done differently.

In Bob’s case, he was paying attention to where his wife was walking and stopped paying attention to his own path. He also wasn’t using the handholds.

Bob is 70 years old, but he admits falls were not even on his radar to worry about. I think that’s true of most of us.

Most falls actually happen in our own homes. In many ways, our homes are setting us up for a fall.

Do you ever leave items on the stairs to take up or down later? We do. That’s a fall hazard.

Do you have rugs that slide when you step on them? That’s a fall hazard.

Are there pet beds or clutter between your bed and the bathroom? That’s a fall hazard. And those are just the start of the list.

Obviously, we can do a lot to reduce the risk of falls for ourselves and our loved ones. But first, we have to acknowledge that it’s a risk.

Looking back on my own fall so many years ago, I was wearing slippery dress shoes and carrying a tray that was unbalanced and too heavy. As the saying goes, it was an accident waiting to happen. I was lucky. So many people aren’t.

From now on, I’m going to make it habit to use handrails. It can’t hurt, it definitely might help. Why don’t you give it a try too?

More: Here are steps to spotting fall hazards at home in Metro Detroit