“Performing pedicures on elderly patients can be tricky,” says Dr. Colleen Schwartz, a podiatrist in Pleasanton, Calif. “While the service is desperately needed and greatly appreciated, trimming a nail or a cuticle a little too close, or pumicing a callus with the same vigor as you would with a younger client could lead to a serious break in the skin, proving to be limb- or life-threatening.” The cause for higher concern with elderly patients is due to “decreased nerve feeling (neuropathy) or decreased blood flow (peripheral vascular disease),” says Dr. Schwartz.
She isn’t in any way suggesting that nail techs should refuse elderly clients, or that elderly clients should avoid nail services. She is, however, aware of the potential dangers and offers techs this suggestion: “Protect yourself and your clients by having your clients first seek medical clearance from their podiatrist to have nail services performed,” she says. A podiatrist should “grant clearance after assessing the patient’s foot pulses and blood flow. Having adequate blood flow is needed to heal even the most minor of scrapes and cuts.” Techs can provide better service to elderly clients by viewing themselves not just as the client’s nail tech, but also a client advocate. This is done on a professional level, as well as a personal level.
Techs should be aware that the body changes as it ages, and the skin and nails are not immune to the maladies associated with age. Poor circulation is a common culprit, and one that is easy for techs to address through both products and massage. Susan Marshall, a nail tech with staffing agency Healthcare Cosmetology Companies, reminds techs that the further away from the heart, the poorer the circulation, which puts the feet at a distinct disadvantage. “Use products that are made for poor circulation, such as ones that contain tea tree oil,” says Marshall, who has worked for four years in a salon located in a senior living facility called Fox Run Village in Novi, Mich.
Massage feels good on anyone, but with the added benefit of helping the body’s circulation, it’s an especially beneficial step for older clients. “Regular massage improves local circulation and feels wonderful. Nothing beats the power of touch,” says Dr. Schwartz. Alayna Pinkston, a massage therapist at Sona Massage Therapy in Ankeny, Iowa, warns techs to avoid deep pressure during the massage. “Use a gentle touch, with slow movements,” she says. Pinkston recommends techs use lotion instead of oil during the massage step, since many times elderly skin can’t absorb the oil as well. Avoid sloughing lotions and scrubs, as they could create abrasions in sensitive, dry skin that is already susceptible to cracks and nicks.
Nails become thicker with age, and the ridges in them become more pronounced. Soak nails in tepid, not hot, water that includes a moisturizing soap to soften nails and skin. Be gentle when shortening, shaping, and filing nails. Once the nails are groomed, add a moisturizer that will treat the skin, nails, and cuticles. Arthritis is often a consideration with older clients. Flare-ups are painful, but techs can help relieve some of the aching that accompanies arthritis. “Anything heated helps,” says Marshall. “I treat clients’ hands with a moisturizer, and then wrap the hands in warm towels. This also helps to open the pores and moisturize the skin.” Remove the towels or the paraffin gently, and tenderly massage swollen joints.
Techs should examine nails on elderly clients for signs of onycholysis, which could indicate a reaction to medication, splinter hemorrhages, clubbing, or nail fungus. “A nail fungus can be more significant to their overall health,” explains Dr. Schwartz. She suggests techs refer clients to a doctor at the first sign of what may be a medical problem. Techs should watch for signs of ingrown toenails, corns, or calluses, and swelling or redness.
On the Personal Level
Keep in mind that elderly clients keep a different pace, and they face everyday obstacles that are often overlooked by the young. Look at your mani/pedi area for example. What type of obstacles would an elderly client see? Do you have a chair that could roll back or swivel when a client sits down? Once she is seated, will she have difficulty getting out of the chair? Can an elderly client climb on your pedicure throne by herself or will she need assistance? Is your pedicure chair a comfortable place for an elderly client to sit for up to an hour?
By assessing your salon through the eyes of an elderly client, you can arrange your service area to accommodate her needs and alleviate her fears. Here are two easy-to-implement courtesies for elderly clients: Stand up when the client walks over to your manicure chair or pedicure throne and assist her as she sits down. Add pillows to the back of the manicure or pedicure chair.
As a client advocate, change your pace during the appointment of an elderly client. Don’t act anxious or harried; don’t schedule “quick fix” appointments on the front or back end of her service, which could force her to have to juggle her seat with another customer and make her feel rushed. “Elderly clients have a different mentality,” says Pinkston. “They keep a very slow pace.” Techs would do well to meet them at that pace, which will not only increase clients’ overall enjoyment of their services, but will also reinforce to this often overlooked demographic that they made the right choice when they chose your salon.
Change Your Pace
- Walk out from behind the desk and greet your client.
- Make eye contact with her; remember she’s not in any rush.
- Offer to take her coat so it doesn’t hang on the back of her chair during her appointment.
- Place her purse in a safe place by her feet.
- Offer to get her a drink.
- When you sit down to begin her service, gently touch her hands or her feet and ask her how she is doing, instead of rushing right in to the service.
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