“Old People Smell” Makes Scents

Seniors have a distinct smell. People for generations have noticed that their grandmas and grandpas have a unique odor. Home health aides and senior care professionals spend all day working in environments with this scent. What most people don’t know is: What causes the “old people” smell?

Why do people smell?

One explanation for this phenomenon suggests that the difference in smell between generations is evolutionary. According to this school of thought, the odor is the result of chemicals that send a signal of old age. Animals continue to rely on scent to identify characteristics, including age, in a potential mate. The smells associated with seniors aren’t necessarily bad. When compared with the body odors from younger people, the old-people smell was reported as less intense and more pleasant.

Senior scents

Traditionally, people identified several factors that may give an elderly person’s home a slightly different smell. With age, our bodies start to lose their sense of smell, plus people grow accustomed to certain smells over time. For these reasons, seniors might not notice any unusual odors. Certain medications cause a subtle chemical odor. Since elderly people tend to take more medicine, this can also be a contributing factor for the “old people smell”. Today, these explanations are generally considered outdated with more and more research connecting the smell with chemicals in the body.

A chemical explanation

The noticeable “old people smell” in nursing homes, retirement centers and houses is a real thing. Previously, people all thought this unusual smell was from moth balls, antiques, and musty buildings, but science says that’s not the case. “Old people smell” is officially called “nonenal”. This chemical is a part of body odor that increases with age, which means it’s completely natural. The skin’s antioxidant defenses in the skin start to break down in our 40s. Without these defenses, fatty acids react with oxygen in the air and form nonenal.

Cures for “old people smell”

The discovery of nonenal means that all the previous ideas about what caused “old people smell” are wrong. It has nothing do with how often they clean the house, wash laundry or bathe. Lotions, candles, and perfumes are also not the culprit. With the discovery of this chemical, however, scientists are looking for a cure. Japanese companies have invested in deodorants, perfumes, soaps and other ways to neutralize the odor.

One way to reduce the odor naturally is simply to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise, healthy eating, alcohol moderation, drinking lots of water and getting lots of rest. Stay calm, stress increases the smell. While this is good advice to follow, there’s an even better way to approach the “old people smell”: acceptance.

Nonenal is a natural body process that comes with time. If we continue discussions about the cause of “old people smell,” we can work to normalize it. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about the way humans age.