Your fingernails and toenails grow at a constant rate, but older people find their nails, particularly their toenails, become ridged or damaged by infections. They also tend to thicken, making them harder to cut.
The gymnastics involved in getting close enough to allow you to cut your toenails effectively, because you are no longer as flexible as you were, adds another layer of difficulty to this essential grooming task. Toenails that get too long may make walking difficult and may be prone to damage, and fungal and bacterial infections.
It is best to schedule a regular time to cut your toenails, perhaps every two weeks, or at least once each month, in order to manage their length. If you have had difficulty in the past trimming your nails then a visit to a podiatrist first may be helpful to get your toenails to a stage that you can then manage.
Assemble what you need to carry out the task: a large pair of toenail clippers, a dish or soft cloth to collect the trimmings, a nail file and a suitable skin moisturiser to rub into the surrounding skin afterwards. It may help to soak the feet first in a bucket of warm water for ten minutes to soften the nails a little and to ease stiff feet joints - you may also need a towel to dry your feet with. If bending is difficult it may be helpful to place your foot on a bench or stool while you are sitting comfortably on a chair to bring the clippers and the toes closer to each other.
Start with the big toe on the foot you can get closest to and continue to cut the nails of each toe in turn until the little toenail has been trimmed. Cut the nails straight across. If you curve the cut towards the sides of each toe then you may be encouraging the development of ingrown toenails, as the nail edge becomes embedded in the flesh around the nails.
Trim the nails on the other foot, starting again with the big toe, collecting all the trimmings in a cloth or dish to dispose of them safely.
File the nail edges until they are smooth with a nail file, preferably one with a ‘diamond’ metal surface as they are sturdy and effective at smoothing roughed edges.
The final step in the process is to rub in some lotion to sooth any sore areas, moisturise the skin of the feet and toes, and to check to see if there are any areas of broken skin or potential infections. This is particularly important for diabetics as they may often get injuries to their feet and have a decreased ability to detect them as the nerves in their feet are frequently damaged by the condition.
After you have finished trimming your toenails, wash all clippers, files and cloths in hot, soapy water. This ensures that all traces of the nail clippings are removed and allows them to dry so they are in good condition to use next time.
All of the products that you need to safety trim your toenails are available from your community pharmacy. Your pharmacist can help you choose the correct products to use to deal with your nails and can advise you if you need to visit a podiatrist or a doctor for extra help with your feet and toenails.