The Way You Smell: Does Your Smell Change As You Age?

do-you-smellI’ve heard people refer to that “Old lady smell.”

It’s not necessarily an insult but it’s hardly a compliment.

Antiperspirants, perfumes, scented shampoos and conditioners, toothpaste and mouthwash are big business because most people do not want to be associated with stench and are hyper vigilant about their cleanliness and how they smell.

However, the older we get, the less acute our smelling acumen becomes. When individuals reach their seventies, 75 percent of their sense of smell has disappeared and, as a result, they don’t know they smell. Additionally, doing all the things required to keep one smelling good aren’t so easily executed by an aged person, who may have difficulty getting around.

Old People: Do They Innately Smell?
Many would respond with a definitive “Yes.”

A.L.: There is an odor that could be called ‘Old person smell.’ I have declared it ‘Dirty scalp smell.’ It is a smell that once you have encountered it you will always know what it is.

R.W.: (The smell) always reminds me of stale baby powder.

E.H.W.: The old lady purse scent: Kleenex, powder and old perfume. Add a stick or two of mint gum.

There are reasons for this.

• Older people do not drink as much water as they should because the pituitaries cease sending signals telling a person he is dehydrated and needs to drink. When dehydrated, the body cannot regulate itself properly and the smells from anything a person has eaten or drunk become highly concentrated. Those smells come out of the person’s pores. An older person’s pee is more concentrated and smellier than that of a younger person.

• Elderly people tend to be cold. They keep their windows closed. The house becomes stuffy because there is no fresh air and it’s often too hot. This contributes to that ‘old person and a-house-where-an-old-person-lives’ smell. The fact that the furniture and house may be old also contributes to the odor.

C.B.P.: It seems antique stores have a distinct smell.

• Bathing becomes more difficult for elderly and infirmed people so they may not do it often enough. Their homes probably aren’t as clean as they were when the homeowner was more ambulatory.

R.F.: As we get older, it gets harder to get in and out of a tub or shower. They aren’t doing anything physical so they don’t wash as often. And it seems old people wear their same clothes for days. I don’t think I can describe the smell because I think everybody has their own.

• Dander, which is sloughed-off skin cells, along with the dust, mildew and mold in a closed-up, less than pristine home can lead to a nasty smelling place and person.

• Open up the closet of an elderly person and you may find the source of the odor.

J.C.: I think the old people smell comes from wearing clothes kept in a mildewed closet.

Kareishuu, which is the Japanese word for the distinctive odor of an elderly person, is unlike the smell of younger people.

Kareishuu means “The smell of gaining years” or the smell of aging. This smell, reportedly detected in men more than women, is comparable to aged cheese, old books and candle wax. Smokers and drinkers smell worse than those who refrain.

Studies show people over the age of 40 have increased levels of a fragrant organic compound called 2-nonenal on their skin and in their sweat. It is a chemical that smells greasy and grassy, according to researchers. This chemical may be responsible for the worsening of body odor in older people. Some describe the odor as the smell of aged beer and cucumbers.

C.K.: Yes … we all have it … sort of musty and reminiscent of our parents. I noticed that when I was alone in a hotel room. Reminded me of my grandfather. Part of it is not bathing and part not changing your underwear daily.

Elderly people have a noticeable underarm odor as well but it’s not considered unpleasant, according to researchers.

L.B.: I think everyone has their own personal smell. My grandkids have that certain grandkid smell. My grandmother always smelled sweet and clean. I’m sure I have my own personal smell as well. I just hope it isn’t offensive.

It’s not that aging people suddenly give up caring about how they look and smell or how neat and clean their homes or bodies are. They simply are not as aware of odors or dirt as younger people because they can’t see or smell as well as they once could.

J.S.: There is definitely an ‘old person’ house smell. As their health and vision fails, they have less ability to see or clean themselves or their home. Many resist wearing “Depends” too long.

L.C., age 72: If they have a particular aroma it’s probably caused by two factors: Old people don’t bathe as often as they did when they were working and they take too many vitamins.

Lend them a helping hand. Do their laundry, assist them in the bathroom, wash their hair, clean their house or hire someone to do it. Elderly people want to maintain their dignity but sometimes they are incapable of doing the basic hygiene and household tasks for themselves.

P.S. This writer just asked her husband if she had the “Old lady smell.” He said, “I haven’t smelled that but maybe old men can’t smell it.” Just as well, I suppose.

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About This Blogger

Cindi Pearce

Cindi Pearce has been writing professionally since the days of manual typewriters. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University, Cindi is especially interested in women’s health concerns. She teaches yoga, is an amateur belly dancer, loves mowing her five acres of land with her beloved zero turn mower, has three grown children, one granddaughter and five large dogs. Cindi has managed to stay married to the same man for 35 years.

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