General Question

Tennis5tar's avatar

Why do older people have 'that smell' and what causes it?

Asked by Tennis5tar (1255points) July 17th, 2008
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

46 Answers

robmandu's avatar

I know this: Febreze doesn’t even make a dent.

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

To the contrary, most elderly do not have a “smell”. Possibly the loved one you shoved into a crappy nursing facility might have a smell, but that is due to inattentive care and not personal hygiene. To make my point, visit any vibrant elderly community such as Del Webb resorts and take a walk around. Granted, you might get overwhelming scents of aqua velva or Aqua-Net hairspray, but I sincerely doubt you will smell “old people” smell. I don’t know what age bracket you define as “older”, but I know some 90 year old women that smell a heck of a lot better then some sk8 boies and goth chicks. Careful with generalizations, one day you will be judged likewise.

robmandu's avatar

@sue… buwahahahahahaha!

way to demonstrate generalization with an ad-hominem attack thrown in to boot.


Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

Wow. I have no clue what those words are….buwahahahaha and ad-hominem. I like ‘em, but I don’t get ‘em.

Tennis5tar's avatar

I don’t really know what to say to that Sueanne… I do know this, I have never and will never ‘shove’ a loved one into a ‘crappy’ nursing facility, so thanks for judging me on that one.

It’s so hard to bloody please everyone in this overly PC world.

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

I couldn’t judge you. I don’t even know you. But, you got your “smell” opinion from somewhere and I was just taking a wild guess. Glad to hear you won’t be shoving anyone there.

gailcalled's avatar

I am an older person. Come round and have a sniff anytime. My mother is 93 and smells like Dove soap. Come round and smell her also. The dining room in her Independent Living Complex smells like any restaurant when filled with diners.

@Tennisstar: on what evidence are you making that odd judgment?

jrpowell's avatar

My grandpa smelled lovely on the day he died. (I miss that smell). Like Sueanne_Tremendous said I think it is the location and not the person that smells.

marinelife's avatar

For the same reason that some young people have a pong. They don’t bathe. Would you say all young people stink? Neither would I.

All old people do not have a certain smell or even the same smell either. My grandfather smelled of butter rum lifesavers, a treat he would always share with me. My Mom, now 84, smells of moisturizer, a light floral scent, but you have to be kissing close to “smell” her.

PupnTaco's avatar

@ Marina: A pong?

I will say more young people stink to high heaven between their hormonal BO and “The Axe Effect.”

gailcalled's avatar

Pong=strong, unpleasant smell.

osullivanbr's avatar

OK you can all rest easy. I’m here to solve this little problem right now.

You see young smelly people, have this awful tendancy to become old smelly people.
Crazy how the world works isn’t it.

marinelife's avatar

@PnT I see gailcalled got back with it, but here is the dictionary entry:

pong – WordNet® 2.1 (2005) :

n 1: an unpleasant smell [syn: niff, pong]

I dated a guy in high school (very briefly) who reeked of Canoe. When we held hands, (the one he applied it with apparently) I then reeked of Canoe. My olfactory system could not take it. It was the end of the romance.

dragonflyfaith's avatar

My grandmother always smelled like Vanilla Fields.

One smell I can’t stand is the smell of moth balls. The worst was a woman in a doctor’s office who smelled of moth balls, cigarettes and cat pee. gag

gailcalled's avatar

Any smoker, no matter what his/her age, smells revolting.

In some rare circumstances, when very old people have illnesses that cause incontinence, they can smell if left unattended. Sometimes the staff, even at 5 star nursing facilities, are run off their feet.

Lightlyseared's avatar

after actual scientific research into this problem it has been decided that old people don’t smell any different to other people.

Spargett's avatar

I would suspect all the vitamins and supplements they take. Maybe its the odor of their stuff?

Old people’s houses are full of couches, dressers, and carpet that can are up to 50 years old. Those things will get their own smells after a while, which have to rub off on anyone living with them.

gailcalled's avatar

OK, everyone, come to my house and have a sniff.

dragonflyfaith's avatar

@gail That’s the hardest I’ve laughed all day.

AstroChuck's avatar

It’s the smell of pre-death.

PupnTaco's avatar

@gail: be right over!

gailcalled's avatar

I’ll start steaming the kale, washing the blueberries and shelling the pistachios.

PupnTaco's avatar

Skip the kale for me, but I’ll bring the cachaça. :)

gailcalled's avatar

Traga-o sobre

PupnTaco's avatar

I had to translate that I thought you meant you were sober hahah

susanc's avatar

I’m old but my furniture isn’t. Gail? Yours?

Tennis5tar's avatar

Ok, here we go, I’m not trying to make any judgements. I just thought maybe it was another chemical change that happened, much like going through puberty. I am well aware not all older people have a scent that is maybe a little unpleasant. When bathing/ living in a home with new furnishings and using deoderant, what else could cause the smell. I really didn’t mean to offend anyone here…

Lightlyseared's avatar

@tennis. There was a theory along those lines but it has been disproved. Believe me young people can smell just as bad, it has nothing to do with age but is often a sign of neglect (either by the person themselves or by those that are supposed to care for them).

gailcalled's avatar

@Pup: Isn’t it funny that in pigeon Portuguese (speaking of cachaça), traga-o sobre translates as “Bring it on”? (I’m not much of a drinker, not by choice, but by GI tract.)

@susanc: Much of my furniture is early 19th century pine or turn-of-the-century oak. Am I that old? Sometimes. The sitting-on furniture is mostly new bamboo with loose cushions. I got really tired of reupholstering.

I am going to a local old-fashioned Musical Tent tonight to see “Hairspray” in the round. There will be many old folks jitneyed in from the Community Residence. I’ll do a sniff test and report back.

dragonflyfaith's avatar

@gail Just don’t get caught sniffing around that could get uncomfortable.

gailcalled's avatar

This crowd is half-blind (that is a legitimate result of aging) and I will be subtle – or as subtle as possible. Can I count on some of you to take care of my bail?

It is a very small venue and gets very crowded. Any stinker would be easily recognized, I am sure.

dragonflyfaith's avatar

@gail We’ll pass around a plate for a collection. We’ll call it “The Gail Sniff Plate”.

ukasaka's avatar

I have no idea. But it is very consistent between several households!

YARNLADY's avatar

I found out during my time as a volunteer in a nursing home that the smell is mostly due to improper bathing by their caretaker. If anyone is not bathed regularly and completely, they will develop “old people” smell.

There is another factor that has might be considered. per wikipedia: In the April 2001 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Shinichiro Haze et al. published an article suggesting that omega-7 unsaturated fatty acids, such as palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid found on the skin surfacewere oxidatively decomposed to 2-nonenal, which may be the cause of the phenomenon commonly known as old person smell.

A scientist in Japan, Shoji Nakamura is devising products for a cosmetic line to meet the market”, but in my opinion, washing properly is all that is needed.

moorpheus's avatar

I agree with Yarnlady. A lotta old folks find it difficult and scary to step into the bathtub to bathe properly. And I’ve been around a lotta younger old folks (50ish) who smell “stale.”

Stale, to me, isn’t a stinky smell, but it is yucky anyway. I think it is their dirty hair. And maybe they don’t wash their clothes in a nice smelling soap.

I don’t like that stale smell, and I don’t like odor on anyone.

atchison's avatar

Sue has some real nerve talking so hastily about generalizing old people and then doing the same with skater boys and goth chicks! I think she needs a real hard slap to the face to jolt the hypocrisy out of her. Or just a good old fashion beating for being so rude

Sunny2's avatar

I want to thank everybody who answered this question. I was looking for an answer to this question with Google and landed on this site. I not only found the answer; I found a very interesting site!
My husband had asked me a few years ago to tell him if he ever smelled “like an old man.” The day came and Fluher answered the question. His balance isn’t very good and he was afraid he’s fall in the shower. He also couldn’t remember if he’d had a shower or not. I now put a walker in front of the shower door to remind him to take a shower. Problem solved.

gailcalled's avatar

@Sunny2: Slightly off topic…I have dozens of tips for older people who are beginning to have memory problems. My mother is 96 and doing well, other than severe short-term memory loss.

(Such as getting a carpenter to put hospital quality grab bars in the shower stall.)

If you feel like, ask fluther a question along the lines of; “Do you have any tips to help older people who are starting to have problems with their memories?”

Sunny2's avatar

@gailcalled Thanks for the offer. My husband has Alzheimers, which his father and his father’s mother had before him. He’s very aware of his faltering memory and periods of confusion. We’re doing okay for now, but I’ll ask Fluther a question when I need to.

ejk21405's avatar

Tennis5tar, I asked the same question at college studying Skin therapy. I always noticed that older people smelled different, i wouldn’t describe it as foul or a pong, just different or like a base or background smell.
There is a chemical called ‘nonenal’ which is present in body odor. As you become older you produce more nonenal and the distinct smell is caused by the breakdown of fatty acids in the skin. So you are right… it is a chemical reaction! I did not take offence to your question and i do not think you were insulting anyone as babies, teens etc. have distinct smells. I recently lost three of my grandparents and they all had a distinct ‘older person smell’ which i found very comforting and it is something i miss dearly. Equally, when i hold a new baby, I’m immediately brought back to the first year of my daugters life.

blinded123's avatar

I dont have an answered but i do have a statment, elderly people do have a “smell”. I was sighted all my life until 2010. Then i lost all but 10% in my right eye. The saying that when you loose one sence the others make up for it, well its true! My sence of smell is much much better then it ever was before. I can smell an elderly person from a distance. I dont know how to describe the smell, Its not a “dont take care of them self smell” and these people are in the store,out eating or just walking by. No nursing homes. It has got to be something chemical with there body. Its not a stink its just different. I hope no one gets offended, but even my grand mother has that“smell”. No judgement,no saying people are not practing good hyge. Just they have a different smell and other people do to some young and some of different races. Just ask a blind person they will tell you!

Byzan's avatar

Well, I too went on google to pose this “scent” question of older folks and I must say, by the time I read halfway through these replies, I was laughing till tears were streaming.

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