Nail disorders in older people, and aspects of their pharmaceutical treatment

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Abstract

The aim of this paper was to explore how aging influences the nail unit, its disorders and its response to treatment, and to identify some of the age-related gaps in the ungual drug delivery literature. Aging causes obvious changes to the nail, some of which are inherently due to old age, while others are due to diseases/conditions which become more prevalent as we age. Alterations in the nail plate's colour, contour, thickness, fragility, surface features, cell size, chemical composition and growth rate are some of the changes, with toenails and fingernails showing different effects. With respect to disease, the incidence of onychomycosis – the most common nail disorder – is considerably higher in older people. Similarly, brittle nails become more common as we age. In contrast, the literature about aging and the incidence of nail psoriasis is inconclusive, although, it is clear that as one gets older, the negative impact of nail psoriasis on one's quality of life decreases. Pharmaceutical treatment of the diseases comprises local and systemic therapies, sometimes in combination. Systemic therapies have the inherent disadvantages of adverse systemic effects, drug interactions and the need for monitoring, disadvantages which are especially problematic for older people who are more likely to suffer from co-morbidities and be on other medications. Topical therapy avoids such disadvantages. However, the success rates of commercially available preparations are low, and older people may need help with their application. It is also proposed that regular inspection and grooming of nails should become part of routine care of older people, as these would provide opportunities to identify and treat any problems at an earlier stage.

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