Caregiving: Fingernail Care

Overview

Nail care is important for health and appearance. Your loved one can accidentally scratch themself (or you) if their fingernails are too long. Nails that are dirty or too long—especially in a person who usually cared for their own nails—also can be a sign that a loved one needs more help with personal care.

Try to take the person for manicures if that is what your loved one wants. It's a chance to get out and see people and continue a favorite activity.

You can do basic nail care at home. Usually all you need to do is keep the nails clean and at a safe length.

Trimming fingernails

Try to trim the person's nails every week. Or check them each week to see if they need to be trimmed. It's easiest to trim nails after the person has had a shower or has washed his or her hands. It makes the nails softer and easier to trim.

Start by gathering your supplies. You will need fingernail clippers and a nail file. You may also need nail polish and nail polish remover.

To trim the nails:

  1. Wash and dry your hands. You don't need to wear gloves.
  2. Use nail polish remover to take off any polish.
  3. Hold the person's hand steady with one hand while you trim the nails with your other hand. Trim the nails straight across.
  4. The nail length can vary depending on the person's taste. But in general, keep the nails even with—or not much longer than—the tip of the finger.
  5. Let the nails dry if they are still damp and soft.
  6. Use a nail file to gently smooth the edges of the nails, especially at the corners. They may be sharp after the nail is cut straight.
  7. Apply nail polish, if the person wants it.

General nail care

Hand-washing

If you're helping someone wash their hands, wash the underside of the nails with soap and water. This is easiest with a nail brush. Remember that nails tend to get harder with age, and the skin on the hands can become thin and dry. So offer the person hand lotion after washing his or her hands.

Avoiding infection

When you're caring for someone's nails, it is important to remember not to trim or cut the cuticles. A minor cut in a cuticle could lead to an infection.

When you're washing someone's hands or trimming their nails, look for any signs of infection from a cut or other injury. Signs may include pain, swelling, redness, or warmth. This is especially important if the person has diabetes. Call the person's doctor if the cut doesn't heal with home treatment, such as antibiotic ointment and a bandage.

Credits

Current as of: June 16, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse