What causes thick toenails in the elderly?

January 10, 2020 2

What causes thick toenails in the elderly?

You’ve noticed that mom’s nails have grown thicker, yellow and difficult to cut.

They have kept up with their personal hygiene on a daily basis.

They are taking their medications regularly, so what is the problem?

The truth is that older people are at risk of developing nail changes as part of the aging process.

A dampening in the immune system of elderly people and other age related disorders can all contribute to the thick toenails in the elderly.

Thickened nails usually seem harmless at first. However, in some cases, if they’re left untreated, it could affect the surrounding skin and cause pain.

If these problems advance, they could even impair your loved one’s movements.

In today’s post, we will look at the causes of thickened nails in the elderly and what you can do to treat or reduce the chances of the condition.

What causes thick toenails in the elderly?

Reduced blood flow to the toenails.

Although scientists don’t completely understand why, as people age, blood flow to the furthest parts of the body such as the fingernails and toenails becomes reduces. With this reduction, it means less oxygen is able to reach the toenails. This can lead to thickened and discolored nails.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that affects the skin. If your loved one has psoriasis, the chances that their nails become thick also increase.

Age-related changes in nail turnover

Regularly, our nails “turnover” or new nail tissue forms to replace the old.

As people get older, the rate at which this happens slows down.

Because of this slow nail turnover, you can have thickening in the toenails.

Fungal infections can cause thick toenails in the elderly

A fungal infection may also be responsible for thick toenails in your loved one.

Fungi thrive in warm and moist areas of the skin.

Improper foot and nail care can lead to these fungal infection developing and therefore causing thick nails.

Footwear that is too tight, feet that are not cleaned properly after a bath, diabetes and reduced blood flow are all precursors to an infection that thickens the nails.


Injuries can also cause thick toenails in the elderly.


Smoking can also cause thickened toenails.

What you can do to help your elderly loved one with thick toenails

So what can you do as a caregiver to help your elderly loved one who has thick toenails?

First of all, I recommend that you see a podiatrist or a dermatologist.

A podiatrist is a trained medical professional who diagnoses and treats diseases of feet and lower limbs.

A dermatologist is a trained doctor who specializes in diseases and conditions of the skin, hair and nails.

Talk to them.

A podiatrist will be able to diagnose what the problem is (if there is an underlying health problem) and prescribe any medication that is needed.

Apart from this, there are things you can do on a daily basis to keep thick nails at bay.

  • Daily movements to help with blood flow. Like I mentioned above, reduced blood flow to the toenails can cause thick toenails. Helping your elderly get at least 30 minutes of movement throughout the day can help with circulation immensely.
  • Shoes and socks that fit properly are a must. The right shoes and socks can make a lot of difference when it comes to blood circulation.
  • Help your loved one dry their feet completely after a bath.
  • Make sure to cut their nails properly.
  • The right diet is also important.

Closing thoughts

While thick nails may not be completely avoidable in some cases, it’s possible to reduce how much they occur and their effects on your elderly loved one.

Did you find this post helpful?

Consider sharing it with a caregiver friend who is looking for solutions for thick nails in their elderly loved one.


  • Barbara Frazier

    July 31, 2023 at 3:38 pm

    Thank you for this information. It has helped a lot. One thing that wasn’t covered was the toe nails turning sideways and and sometimes curving in around the toe. Weird.

  • James Hodge

    March 12, 2024 at 5:00 am

    Very good information. Thank you.

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