How to Take Care of Feet and Toenails in the Elderly

Foot care is vital for elderly people. Minor issues, like cuts or blisters, can become dangerous on a senior’s feet.


If they have a disease like diabetes, the risks of infections are serious. So do you know how to take care of feet and toenails in the elderly safely?

We’ll go through all these essential steps in this article, so read on!

1. Do Frequent Inspections

The most important thing is to pay attention to the feet in the elderly regularly, so no serious problems get to develop. Seniors with health issues may have nerve damage in their feet, so they may not notice a cut, verruca or blister until it’s too late.

Inspect the feet at regular intervals, even once a day, if the senior has health issues. Any problems in the feet can worsen if left unnoticed for too long.

Common Foot Issues for Seniors

There are a bunch of common issues many seniors face that can be uncomfortable.

  • Athlete’s foot: A common foot fungus you can prevent by keeping feet dry and clean. 
  • Bunions: Wide shoes can help ease the pain of bunions, but if they’re serious, surgery is the only way to remove them. 
  • Corns and calluses: Treat foot corn and calluses with shoes that don’t put pressure on them. You can also soak them, but be careful when removing the excess skin.
  • Verrucas: Plantar warts can go away on their own, but see a doctor if they get painful. Don’t try to remove them on your own.
  • Heel spurs: An overgrowth of bone below the heel that can get inflamed. See a doctor if it gets too painful. You can also do some exercises at home for heel pain.

All of these conditions are normal, but if they get painful and you’re not able to ease the pain at home, see a doctor. As a general rule of thumb, avoid any at-home treatment that could damage the skin of a senior’s feet. 

When to See a Doctor

Look for anything out of the ordinary. Sores, cuts or blisters that don’t start healing within 24 hours can be a sign of problems and lead to infections or gangrene. Make sure to disinfect and protect the cuts and control the healing, and see a doctor if necessary.

Also, pay attention to any discoloration of the feet and nails. Yellowed nails can mean a fungus is developing, which will require treatment. If the skin color changes, there may be circulation issues.

Numbness and tingling in the feet can also mean serious circulation issues, so stay alert to any changes. If you’re taking care of someone else’s feet, ask them if they’ve felt uncomfortable or notice anything out of the ordinary.

2. Keep Feet Clean 

Wash the feet every day, and pay special attention to them when showering. If you’re taking care of your own feet, you can buy a shower chair to make it a little easier to reach the feet.  When you’re helping seniors take care of themselves, make sure that their feet are clean every day. 

Also, remember to dry the feet well before putting on socks and shoes. This helps prevent issues like foot fungus from forming.  

3. Cut Nails Regularly

senior cuts toenail
Cut Nails Regularly

Nail care for seniors is a crucial part of keeping their feet healthy, especially if they have blood flow problems. 

It’s also often one of the hardest things for an older person to do on their own. Poor eyesight and conditions like arthritis make it difficult to reach down to their feet or even hold a pair of nail clippers

A pedicure for seniors, therefore, often needs assistance. Here’s how you perform toenail cutting for the elderly.

Soften Them Up 

Nails tend to grow slower and thicker as you age, so they can be harder to cut through. Try cutting the senior’s toenails after a bath or soak, as they’re softer then. It will make your job easier and safer. You won’t have to use as much force, so you’re less likely to cut where you’re not supposed to. 

The Right Length

You’ll need to keep toenails short, but be careful not to damage them as you cut them. Leaving the nails to grow too long can put pressure on the skin and cause lesions, especially when wearing shoes. 

Cutting toenails too short can lead to infections. For people with diabetes, gangrene is also a severe risk you always need to be mindful of. 

Keep It Straight

Cut the toenails straight. Trying to round out the edges risks cutting them too short, and you may cause an ingrown toenail that leads to an infection. 

Also, don’t cut or trim the cuticles. There’s always a risk of cutting too much and causing an infection, even in healthy people. With an older person, that risk is higher. 

The same goes for calluses. Don’t try to cut them, just disinfect and protect to help them heal.

4. Maintain Hygiene

Always wash your hands well, before and after taking care of an elderly person’s feet.   

Boil and disinfect nail cutters before and after use. You don’t want to take any extra bacteria to the nails.

5. Moisturize the Feet

Dry skin can be a risk factor for elderly people since dry skin splits more easily and may not heal as quickly as younger skin. 

Using moisturizer also becomes more important with age, because your skin tends to get drier as your circulation slows down. 

Dry skin also itches, and scratching can easily cause small cuts on older feet with thinner skin.

Use a lotion or cream every day to keep the skin soft and prevent it from cracking. Pick a product that’s light enough not to make the feet sweat, and apply it every day after thoroughly cleaning and drying the feet. 

Avoid applying lotion between the toes, as this can lead to sweating.

6. Pay Attention to Socks

Pick the right socks to keep the feet cool and comfortable. They should also reduce friction that could cause blisters. Look for socks made of natural fibers that aren’t too tight to allow circulation around the ankles.

Seniors often suffer from cold feet due to slower circulation, especially at night. If this is your case, wear a warm, soft pair of socks to bed. We don’t recommend hot water bottles, as they can leak or cause burns on your skin. 

7. Wear Supportive Shoes

Prevention is always better than cure and it becomes increasingly important to wear correctly fitting, comfortable, supportive shoes when you grow older. You might also have uncomfortable foot issues, like bunions or fallen arches, which may require orthotic inserts.

Buying supportive shoes can also keep you protected from a fall. When you can rely on the shoe you’re wearing, you’ll feel more confident when walking.

Here’s what we recommend for shoes for the elderly.

  • Don’t wear heels. It’s time to prioritize comfort and keeping your feet and legs healthy.
  • Pick wide shoes. Your feet are likely getting wider, and narrow shoes can give you bunions.
  • Look for arch support. A well-fitting arch support can help your feet stay comfortable and even alleviate lower back pain.  
  • Cushioning. Foam or air cushioning absorbs impact and protects your joints.

Tip: Brands like Vionic and Ecco make comfortable shoes that give you lots of support without sacrificing on looks.

8. Take Care of the Joints and Muscles

Feet and ankles can get stiff as your joints lose elasticity and you lose muscle mass. This can affect your overall mobility. To keep your body supple, make sure you do some easy exercises every day. 

Ankle Rolls

Sit down on a chair or the couch. Extend one leg and start rolling it around in one direction and then the other. Do this for a minute if you can, and repeat on the other side.

Foot Extension

Another easy exercise to strengthen the feet and legs is standing up and getting on your toes. You can support yourself on a wall, a chair or a table. Stay there for a few seconds and lower yourself back to the ground. Repeat a couple of times.

For seniors who don’t have enough strength to do this standing up, you can also perform the movement sitting down. This way, you don’t have to support your whole body weight on your toes.

Foot Massage

A foot massage is always relaxing and can help you loosen tight foot muscles and ease any pain. You can even try an ice massage with a frozen bottle of water for conditions like plantar fasciitis

You can do this by yourself when you’re sitting down watching tv, or after you’ve washed your feet. If you’re a carer, you can give your ward a soft foot massage with their pedicure.

Try massaging the arches, which is where older people with fallen arches may feel the most pain. Another possibly painful spot is the Achilles tendon, as well as the toes. Just keep it soft and easy, and interrupt the massage or the exercises if you feel pain.

clean feet
Foot Massage

9. Elevate Feet

Keeping feet elevated can help seniors be more comfortable, especially after being on their feet for a while. It helps drain fluids from the feet and reduces swelling. 

Keep a footstool, ottoman by the couch, or a leg rest pillow to lift your feet when you’re sitting down. Use it whenever you feel like your feet need a rest, and don’t hesitate to contact a doctor if the discomfort doesn’t ease up.

The Takeaway

Knowing how to take care of their feet and toenails is key to keeping seniors healthy. Without proper care, older people with health issues can develop serious complications from foot ailments. 

Wash and moisturize the feet daily. Keep nails short, but be careful not to cut too close to the skin. 

Regularly check for problems or changes in the feet. If cuts or calluses don’t show signs of healing, it’s better to check them immediately with a doctor.

Tina Miao was a doctor for years and then became a government officer who was responsible for health policies. She likes to review products and has a lot of insights into senior living and health-related problems.

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