There are a lot of things about us that change as we age. Our toenails and fingernails continue to need care and feeding as we age. Many people think that the need for geriatric nail care decreases as people get older but the opposite is true. If you handle personal care for seniors, you know that it is important for people and caregivers to pay attention to the fingernail and toenails of older people.
To understand the importance of geriatric nail care, it is important to understand the biology or fingernails and toenails. The protein that makes up nails on the human body is keratin. This is durable and flexible. It is the same protein that makes up the exoskeletons of many insects.
The keratin on our fingernails and toenails starts out smooth with a uniform coloration. As people age, that change. Ignoring an older person’s nails can cause them discomfort. It can be easier to damage the fingernails and toenails of older adults than for younger ones. Here are some of the common nail problems for older adults:
- The thickness changes. As we age, it becomes harder and harder for the body to maintain the same thickness and flexibility of the toenails and fingernails. One of the functions of geriatric nail care is to add moisture and keep them from becoming brittle and thin. People who provide senior companion services need to take care when tending to the nails of an older adult. Care needs to be taken when clipping the fingernails. Toenails, on the other hand, go the other way. They often become thicker and harder to trim. Using good moisturizers on feet and hands can do a lot to help.
- The coloration undergoes changes. As was mentioned, fingernails and toenails of younger adults have a uniform coloration but that changes as we age. When you are working on geriatric nail care, you may notice the nails have turned a bit gray or yellow. There are a few things that can cause these color changes such as deficiencies in certain vitamins and smoking. Sometimes when you notice discoloration, it can be caused by fungal infections, which can be hard to get rid of. One telltale sign of a fungal infection is splotches of black on the toenails. There are times when dark streaks or spots on nails can mean something more serious such as melanoma. Seniors suffer from more bruising so that can also be the cause. If you notice sudden changes in nail coloration, a doctor should be consulted to rule out really serious medical issues.
- The texture changes. The nails on healthy people tend to be smooth and have a shine. Older adults have nails that can grow dull. Another feature you may notice on older adults’ nails is that they can develop ridges that are vertical. If you see this, you should not worry about it as this is a normal thing to happen. The time you should worry is if you see the ridges are not vertical but are horizontal. The latter look can be a sign of an underlying health issue. Psoriasis can also cause dimpling and pitting on the fingernails and toenails and this can be treated by a medical professional.
- Keep an eye on the shape. The best way for a senior to keep their fingernails in a crescent shape. This can make it easier to avoid issues such as breaking and tearing. This is a good way to prevent the development of ingrown nails. There are health problems that can cause the nails to flatten out or become too curved. An iron deficiency can be indicated by concave nails.
Whether you offer companion care services or have a loved one who you look after if you are concerned about them, one way you can look after their health is to pay attention to their nails. One way to keep the nails healthy and happy is to pay them some attention and deal with any geriatric nail care issues as they arise. It is always a good idea to keep them trimmed neatly and use clear nail polish to strengthen the nail. For many people, a manicure is a fun experience and older adults are no different.