Should the Elderly Use Shower Curtains or Shower Doors?

Occupational Therapist
Updated:

Your shower layout matters for the bathroom safety of your elderly folks. So keep reading to find out if your elderly loved one should use shower curtains or shower doors in their bathroom.

Elderly Use Shower Curtains or Doors
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Income Disclosure: Product recommendations are based on my personal experience working with seniors. I may earn a commission on items purchased from affiliate links in this guide. Learn More.

As we get older and question our body’s physical capabilities, our thoughts turn to the safety features in our house.

Elderly folks may be rightfully concerned about the layout of their bathrooms since that’s where many falls and injuries occur. If you are looking at making safety modifications to your shower, then you are in the right place for a good read.

This article will discuss the comparisons between shower doors and shower curtains, the pros and cons, and our final recommendations to help you make more educated decisions about making your shower layout safer

Shower Doors: Pros and Cons

Contrary to popular belief, shower doors aren’t a fad that died away in the 1980s. In fact, many older adults still have shower doors, not for fashion’s sake but safety preferences in their bathroom.

Shower doors are usually professionally installed, tempered glass that slides back and forth to block water flow and provide shower users privacy. On the subject of shower safety, here are the pros and cons of having shower doors.

Pros

  • Sturdy: When professionally installed and in the absence of a natural disaster, shower doors don’t go anywhere and last for many years.
  • Easy to clean: Tempered glass can be easily wiped down and sanitized.
  • Effectively blocks water: A properly sealed shower door keeps water in tight and off the floor. This may help prevent unnecessary slippage and falls during transfers out of the shower. 
  • Keeps steam in: For shower users who really enjoy hot showers, shower doors block in hot air to keep the shower warmer for longer.
  • Fall barrier: A door can act as a fall barrier for someone who loses their balance towards the outside of the shower. 

Cons

  • Expensive: Shower doors are more expensive than shower curtains in supply and installation. 
  • Hard to clean for hard water users: The stains are ridiculously difficult to remove if you live in a hard water area or do not own a water softener.
  • A barrier for some equipment: Shower doors may be difficult to work around if you’re trying to use adaptive equipment such as benches, 3-in-1 commodes, or wheelchairs.
  • Barriers to personal assistance: Shower doors may be hard to work around if you have a home health aide or caregiver trying to assist you with a shower.
elderly use shower curtains or doors curtains
Shower curtains are easy to install but not easy to clean.

Shower Curtains: Pros and Cons

Shower curtains are common, easy to find, and stylish in their own right. However, let’s take a closer look at shower curtains, where it concerns shower safety for the elderly.

Pros

  • Cheap: Shower curtains are not an expensive commitment.
  • Easy to install: There is no reason to have a shower curtain professionally installed unless you want it screwed into the studs. Typically, a shower curtain is propped up on rings attached to a pole.
  • Fashionable: Shower curtains come in hundreds of designs, catering to any customized interior design look you are going for in your bathroom.
  • Moderate water blockage: When properly used, shower curtains do a decent job keeping water in the shower and off the floor.
  • Easy to work around: Shower curtains are easy to move around for equipment and personal aide needs.

Cons

  • Not good balance supports: In the event of a fall where you reflexively grab at anything within your reach, a shower curtain is not a good support system. If grabbed with full body weight, most shower curtains will come down on top of you and still send you to the floor.
  • Not easy to clean: In many cases, most people just throw away the plastic curtain lining of the shower curtain and buy another one because they are such a hassle to clean.
  • Sometimes catches on the pole: This is a problem for elderly adults with limited arm range or strength. Shower curtains sometimes catch on the pole and won’t cover the entire shower, which won’t prevent water from spilling out. 
  • Tangles: With water temperature changes compared to the bathroom temperature, shower curtains will blow into the shower and get tangled around the user, which can be a fall hazard. 

Which Option Works Best With Bath Safety Equipment? 

This all depends on other aspects of the shower that haven’t been considered yet, including the threshold. Is the shower a walk-in shower, or is it a tub-shower combination?

We’ve listed a few scenarios and some potential problems with safety equipment.

Shower-Tub Combination with a Shower Door

This is probably the most restricted setup for safety equipment.

Both the tub ledge and the shower door limit access to shower benches, grab bars, and rails. If the shower door opening is too narrow, this could also limit access to bariatric shower chairs or even standard shower chairs.

Additionally (even though it goes without saying), this severely limits someone’s ability to access a 3-in-1 commode, a Hoyer lift, or a wheelchair for transfers in and out of the tub.

elderly use shower curtains or doors shower-tub combination
With this option, there is room for bath safety equipment.

Shower-Tub Combination without a Shower Door

This scenario may not be too bad, especially if the whole setup is up to ADA code. There is still room to get equipment in, including a shower chair or bench.

If the walk-in shower has no threshold, there is even more access for personal assistants, wheelchairs, Hoyer lifts, and commodes with minimal water spillage.

Walk-in Shower with a Shower Curtain

Equipment access is substantial. The shower curtain can be moved entirely out of the way for complete access, especially if the threshold is minimal or even non-existent.

However, you still risk having a lot of water spillage outside the shower, increasing the risk of slips and falls. 

Shower-Tub Combination with a Shower Curtain

The shower curtain doesn’t really pose any limitations on equipment. It’s the threshold of the tub itself. A higher tub ledge means less access but possibly less water spillage on the floor.

RELATED: Shower Safety Tips for Seniors & Elderly

Summary and Final Recommendations

Shower doors and shower curtains pose their fair share of pros and cons for regular use as safety tools in the shower.

In the end, it is a personal choice made by an elderly individual in combination with concerns issued by loved ones and any relevant professional recommendations made by primary physicians or rehabilitation specialists. 

Based on our review, we have made the final recommendations. Selecting a shower door versus a shower curtain is a personal decision you should make with the consideration of other structural factors of the shower.

RELATED: Best Showers for Seniors

For example, a shower door can be an effective tool for a walk-in shower but a significant barrier for a shower-tub combination.

Additionally, a shower curtain can be excellent for both a walk-in and a combination, but water spillage risk needs to be assessed based on the shower threshold or tub ledge. In summary, make your decision based on the type of shower layout. 

Photo of author

Meredith Chandler, OTR/L

Meredith has worked as an occupational therapist for 9 years and as a content writer for 6 years. She primarily works with the geriatric population, focusing on their rehabilitative needs and instructing caregivers and family members for home care. Her specialties include ADL training, neurological re-education, functional mobility training, adaptive equipment education, and wheelchair assessment and mobility training. She is a painter, a musician, and a mother of 4 who loves spending time with her family,

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