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Nail Care Tips for Older Adults

by Leona Small

Elderly Toenail Care Guidelines for a Healthy 2024

As we navigate the journey of aging, our hands and feet often serve as a testament to the wide variety of experiences we’ve accumulated over the years.

However, the effects of time can manifest in subtle ways, particularly in the health and appearance of our nails, both on our hands and feet. Nail care becomes an essential aspect of overall well-being as we age, deserving of attention and care to maintain not only the aesthetics but also the vitality of our hands and feet.

In this article, we’ll explore a curated set of nail care best practices tailored to the unique needs of older adults.

nail care for elderly feature image of three people standing on a surface with only their calves and feet showing

Why Is Appropriate Nail Care for Seniors So Crucial?

Proper nail care is especially crucial for seniors due to the unique challenges we face as we age. As individuals grow older, their mobility and dexterity may decline, making it difficult to maintain their nail health.

Neglecting nail care can lead to a range of issues, including ingrown toenails, fungal infections, and discomfort. Additionally, seniors may have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, that can exacerbate the consequences of poor nail hygiene.

Regular and appropriate nail care not only promotes physical well-being but also contributes to the overall mental and emotional health of seniors, enhancing their quality of life by preventing potential complications and fostering a sense of self-care and dignity.

two people holding hands across a table, both with clean, cut nails showing signs of overall health

How Fingernails Change with Age

As individuals age, various changes occur in their fingernails, reflecting the natural aging process and potential underlying health conditions. Some common changes in fingernails with age include:

  1. Slower Growth: The rate of nail growth tends to slow down as people age. This is a natural part of the aging process and may result in brittle nails.
  1. Thinning and Brittle Nails: Fingernails may become thinner and more brittle over time. This can be attributed to factors such as decreased blood flow to the nail matrix and changes in hormone levels.
  1. Changes in Texture and Color: Nails may develop ridges, lines, or other textural changes as individuals age. Additionally, the color of the nails may change, with some people experiencing a yellowing of the nails due to factors like nail polish use, smoking, or fungal infections.
  1. Increased Dryness: Aging can lead to a reduction in the natural oils produced by the skin and nails, resulting in increased dryness, leading to fragile nails. This dryness can contribute to brittle nails and cuticle problems and could be why many older adults choose to wear socks and shoes throughout the day.
  1. Greater Susceptibility to Infections: As the immune system weakens with age, individuals may become more susceptible to fungal or bacterial infections of the nails. Conditions like onychomycosis (fungal nail infection) may become more common.
  1. Changes in Shape: The overall shape of the nails can change, with some individuals experiencing changes in the curvature or thickness of the nails. This can be influenced by genetics, nutrition, and other environmental factors.
  1. Decreased Blood Flow: Reduced blood circulation, a common aspect of aging, may affect the nail beds and contribute to slower nail growth.

Proper Foot Care for Senior Feet

Aging often brings changes that can affect the feet, and foot health often declines among older adults. Reduced flexibility and mobility, thinner skin, and diminished blood circulation are common factors that may impact foot health in seniors.

Regular foot inspections are crucial to identify any issues early on, such as cuts, sores, or fungal infections. Keeping toenails trimmed, but not too short, helps prevent ingrown toenails and discomfort. Moisturizing dry skin on the feet prevents cracks and calluses. Properly fitted, supportive footwear is essential to provide stability and reduce the risk of falls. Seniors should also be mindful of foot hygiene, washing and drying their feet thoroughly to prevent fungal infection.

the bottoms of two feet on a surface with no socks and shoes on, just bare feet pointed in the same direction

Regular foot exercises, like ankle circles and toe stretches, can enhance flexibility and circulation. Seeking professional foot care, such as regular visits to a podiatrist, becomes increasingly important for seniors to address specific concerns and ensure ongoing foot health. Diabetic foot care practices can be important to pay attention to if you have diabetes.

Toenail Care for the Elderly

Proper toenail care is essential for the elderly to prevent discomfort, infections, and complications. Here are some tips for maintaining healthy toenails in older adults:

  1. Regular Inspection: Conduct regular visual inspections of the toenails to identify any changes, abnormalities, or signs of infection. Promptly address any concerns or seek professional assistance.
  1. Proper Trimming: Trim toenails straight across to help prevent ingrown toenails. Avoid cutting too short or rounding the edges to reduce the risk of ingrown nails and infections. If you don’t own a pair of toenail-specific clippers, we recommend changing that as they’ll make it much easier to trim thicker nails – this is our favorite option. If necessary, seek the help of a caregiver or a podiatrist for toenail trimming.
HAWATOUR Nail Clippers Set, Ultra Sharp Sturdy Fingernail and Toenail Clipper Cutters with Visibly Tin Case, Black
  • Nail Clipper Set: HAWATOUR Nail Clipper Set contains fingernail and toenail clippers, small fingernail clipper with curved edge to fit your finger nail and big toenail clipper with sharp edge for your thick toenail
  • Ergonomic Design: Manicure is never a problem with our ergonomically designed nail clippers. The handles are designed slightly longer to provide comfort while clipping the nails. The levers comes with proper grips which allows you to avoid uneven cuts
  1. Foot Soaking: Soak the feet in warm, soapy water to make the nails softer before trimming. This makes the process easier and lessens the risk of nail damage, as the nails are softer and easier to trim.
  1. Moisturizing: Apply moisturizer to the feet, especially the nails and cuticles, to prevent dryness and reduce the risk of cracking, which makes them frequently susceptible to infection. Choose a moisturizer that is specifically designed for feet, such as this one.
O'Keeffe's for Healthy Feet Foot Cream, Guaranteed Relief for Extremely Dry, Cracked Feet, Instantly Boosts Moisture Levels, 3.2 Ounce Jar, (Pack of 1)
  • Heals Cracked and Dry Feet: O’Keeffe’s for Healthy Feet Foot Cream is a concentrated foot cream that heals, relieves and repairs. O'Keeffe's for Healthy Feet cream offers guaranteed relief.
  • Foot Moisturizer : Creates a protective layer on the skin’s surface that instantly boosts moisture levels and helps prevent further moisture loss for foot care and health.
  1. Comfortable Footwear: Ensure seniors wear comfortable and properly fitting shoes. Shoes that are too tight can contribute to ingrown toenails and other foot issues. Properly fitting footwear provides support and reduces pain at certain pressure points.
  1. Avoiding Barefoot Walking: Avoid walking barefoot, especially in public areas, to reduce the risk of injuries and infections.
  1. Foot Exercises: Simple foot exercises can greatly help to maintain flexibility and circulation, and even improve balance. This can include ankle circles, toe stretches, and gentle foot massages.
  1. Prompt Attention to Issues: Address any foot problems promptly. This includes treating cuts, bruises, or fungal infections. Seeking professional advice for persistent issues is crucial.
  1. Regular Podiatrist Visits: Schedule regular visits to a podiatrist for professional foot care. An experienced podiatrist can address specific concerns, provide advice on proper foot care, and trim toenails if necessary.
  1. Maintaining Good Hygiene: Encourage seniors to keep their feet clean and dry. Washing feet regularly and thoroughly drying them, especially between the toes, helps prevent infections.

By incorporating these toenail care tips into the routine of elderly individuals, it’s doable to maintain optimal foot health and reduce the risk of complications associated with aging.

a close up of a person using nail clippers to trim nails straight and avoid rough edges

Healthy Nails: What That Means

Healthy nail care for seniors means that nails should typically have a pinkish color, a smooth texture, consistent thickness, and a uniform shape. They should be strong, free from discoloration or stains, and grow at a steady rate. The cuticles should be well-maintained and intact, as they help to protect the nail bed. Nails should be free from brittleness, pitting, or dents.

Any significant changes in color, texture, or overall appearance should be promptly addressed with the guidance of a healthcare professional as it could be a sign of serious infection.

Nail Care Tips

In addition to many of the suggestions shared above, there are a few more overall health tips that can have a great, direct impact on nail health.

a woman using  a buffing tool to support healthy nails and get rid of dead skin cells around the nail bed
  1. Balanced Diet: Maintain a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals to support overall nail health.
  2. Stay Hydrated: Drink an adequate amount of water to promote hydration, which is essential for healthy nails.
  3. Protect Nails: Wear gloves while doing household chores or gardening to protect the nails and surrounding skin from potential damage.
  4. Limit Harsh Products: Avoid using harsh nail care products that can contribute to dryness or damage.
  5. Quit Smoking: If applicable, quitting smoking can contribute to overall nail and skin health.

To Use or Not to Use a Nail File?

Using a nail filing tool can be beneficial for shaping, preventing snags, and smoothing rough spots. It’s important to choose a gentle file, file in one direction only, and be mindful of frequency to avoid potential damage.

a woman with thinner nails using a file or emery board instead of fingernail clippers

The Best Products to Use on Aging Nails

There are a few products available for purchase that can help to improve the overall health and appearance of fingers and toenails. We’ve rounded up our favorites, all of which are available for easy purchase on Amazon.

Biotin: Try taking a biotin supplement to increase overall nail health and strength

Nature's Bounty Biotin, Supports Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails, 10,000 mcg, Rapid Release Softgels, 120 Ct
  • SUPPORTS HEALTHY HAIR (1): As is a commonly used vitamin for healthy hair Biotin helps support and maintain healthy beautiful hair (1)
  • SKIN & NAIL HEALTH SUPPORT (1): Biotin plays an important role in the health of your skin and also supports healthy nails so you can continue to look and feel your best (1)

Hard As Hoof Nail Strengthening Cream: A nail growth and cuticle conditioning cream

Hard As Hoof Nail Strengthening Cream with Coconut Scent, Nail Growth & Conditioning Cuticle Cream Stops Splits, Chips, Cracks & Strengthens Nails, 1 oz
  • Stronger, Healthier Nails: Say goodbye to thin, brittle, soft or fragile nails with Hard as Hoof Nail Strengthening Cream. This natural nail strengthener is infused with vitamins, minerals and emollients to strengthen and condition your nails and cuticles
  • Repairs Damaged Nails: A nail treatment formula to help restore and fix damage caused by fake or acrylic and gel nails. It absorbs quickly and deeply penetrates your nails, providing the nourishment they need. Plus, it doesn't leave a greasy residue behind

Cuccio Naturale Revitalizing Oil: A hydrating cuticle oil to help repair cuticles overnight

Cuccio Naturale Revitalizing- Hydrating Oil For Repaired Cuticles Overnight - Remedy For Damaged Skin And Thin Nails - Paraben /Cruelty-Free Formula - Milk And Honey - 2.5 Oz
  • ADVANCED THERAPY FOR DRY HANDS; Give your cuticles some much-needed love and care; Our Vitamin-infusedoil conditioner deeply penetrates your skin with moisture, working to prevent peeling, while healing damaged, cracked nails and hands;
  • ARFITICIAL INGREDIENTS BEGONE. Obtain salon-quality results without unnatural chemicals touching your skin; 100% paraben free with cruelty free ingredients, this oil is formulated with plant-based preservatives and highly curated natural ingredients;

Healthy Seniors Complete Nail and Toenail Clippers Kit: This four-piece, long-handled kit is specifically designed for seniors and includes one podiatrist toenail clipper, one rotating head clipper, one wide jaw clipper, and one file, plus a handy bag for storage

Healthy Seniors Complete Nail and Toenail Clippers for Seniors with Thick Toenails, Big Toe Nail Clippers for Thick Toenails Long Handle, Heavy Duty Toe Nail Clippers for Thick Nails for Seniors
  • The complete set for cutting your nails at home - includes one podiatrist toenail clippers, one rotating head clipper, one wide jaw clipper and one file, plus a handy bag for storage. You will not need to spend money on several scissors or cutters - you have everything you need already included in the box!
  • Designed for thick nails - the extra wide opening allows you to fit and cut large thick nails. Also, the clippers are very sharp and can cut off any rough edges without any pain. This is perfect for the ingrown or fungus nails and all kinds of problems caused by diabetes, paronychia, aging and other health problems.

Nail Tool Kit: If you’re looking for something more robust than the option above, this compact yet extensive 7-tool nail care kit is inclusive of all the tools you’ll need to cut, shape, and maintain nails, even extremely thick toenails

Toenail Clippers for Seniors Thick Toenails, Sharp Toe Nail Clippers Set for Men Women, Heavy Duty Fingernail Clipper Pedicure Tools for Feet, Professional Manicure and Pedicure Kit with Nail Scissors
  • ✔【Professional Toe Nail Clippers】: These Toenail clippers cut the nail safely and easily relieve the pain of ingrown toenail. The 25 degree blade edge fits the nail arc, which precisely cuts ingrown nails or sharp bits on the corners without hurting yourself. The 18mm edge can penetrate deep into the paronychia, our manicure set and pedicure kit to trim ingrown fungus and thick toenail easily.
  • ✔【Double Spring Nail Clippers Design】:Our nail clippers for toenails keep the spring life and have good elasticity. (Please note * Only one side spring can be used when using), and the toenails are easy to trim. Do not lift the springs on both sides at the same time, otherwise the springs will pop out and cannot be used. Our nail clippers are also equipped with ABS non-slip handles, which is safer, easier and more convenient.

Foot File and Callus Remover Tool: This metal foot file with a long handle makes it easy to remove the dead skin off of your heels and bottoms of your feet while in the shower

Colossal Foot rasp Foot File and Callus Remover. Best Foot Care Pedicure Metal Surface Tool to Remove Hard Skin. Can be Used on Both Wet and Dry feet, High Grade Stainless Steel File
  • Perfect solution for dry ,calloused and cracked heels which gives soft fancy feet with little effort
  • Large yet light weight design allows you to work with ease and gives quick amazing smoothness

Fingernail Brush: A fingernail brush with a grip handle to ensure clean nailbeds

Larbois Handle Grip Nail Brush, Nail Brushes Hand Fingernail Brush Cleaner Scrubbing Kit Pedicure for Toes and Nails Men Women (4 Pack)
  • 【New Design】: We have made some improvements. The Handle fingernail brushes have a larger gripping space, much easier to hold and convenient to use.
  • 【Popular Color】: Choose this year's popular orange, which is different from the ordinary colors on the market, and brings you a different color experience. There are 4 bright colors brushes in one package, orange, pink, purple and clear.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, prioritizing proper maintenance of nails is a crucial aspect of overall well-being for older adults. By adopting simple yet effective practices, such as regular inspections, proper trimming, and moisturizing, seniors can ensure the long-term health and comfort of their nails. Foot health, including the care of toenails and the choice of comfortable footwear, plays a pivotal role in maintaining an active lifestyle.

Incorporating good hygiene practices, foot exercises, and regular professional podiatry visits further contribute to the holistic approach to nail care for seniors. As a reflection of one’s overall health, attention to nails not only prevents potential complications but also promotes a sense of self-care, enhancing the quality of life during the golden years.

a fist with healthy, thick nails and no visible fungal infections

About the Author

Leona Small is a freelance writer and former caregiver. She has experience working with people with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias and has spent years working alongside both patients and caregivers in Hospice. Additionally, she’s worked as a Professional Organizer helping people and families to purge, organize, manage, and prepare for various life transitions such as moving, downsizing, and the passing of loved ones. Her passions include writing about healthy aging, innovative resources to help older adults and caregivers, and traveling.

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