Nails are important because they protect the delicate tips of our fingers and toes. They are much like hair: new growth is happening constantly. Nails grow in layers, below the surface of the skin. By the time you see them emerging from the base where the “moon” is, the nail cells themselves have died. (That is why it doesn’t hurt when you cut them.)
Like an archeological record, our nails serve as a window to our health. They reflect poor nutrition, drug reactions, circulation problems, and age. They can also be the site of disease.
Normal changes of aging. As we age, our nails change in predictable ways. They
- grow more slowly, and often become thicker;
- appear duller and may turn yellow or opaque in color;
- can become brittle and split or break often.
Check with the doctor if you notice ridges, stripes, pits, changes in shape, discoloration, redness or pain around the nail.
These could be harmless changes. Or they could indicate kidney disease, oxygen problems, iron deficiency, infection, or even a special form of skin cancer.
Proper nail care
- Keep the nails short and clean. Fingernails should be cut in the shape of the finger. Toenails, more straight across.
- File down sharp edges with an emery board.
- Rub lotion on nails as well, when hands and feet feel dry.
Podiatrist or salon? Going to a salon regularly for a pedicure may be a lovely, inexpensive treat for your relative. The footbath and massage, along with nail trimming, is great for improved circulation. But if the person you care for has diabetes, an immune disorder, or a heart condition, it is best to go to a podiatrist instead. The podiatrist visit won’t come with quite the same pampering, but Medicare will pay for it and the doctor knows what to watch for and how to prevent infection.