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What Causes “Old People Smell” and How Can You Manage It?

What Causes “Old People Smell” and How Can You Manage It?

Have you ever walked into even the cleanest senior living communities or nursing homes, and you noticed a slightly musty or greasy smell upon entering?

While you might associate “old people smell” with uncleanliness, it’s a common result of the natural aging process and not necessarily an indicator of poor hygiene.

In this article, we’ll explore this distinct scent, explain its causes, and discuss how to manage this natural part of aging.

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What Is Nonenal Odor or “Old People Smell”?

Nonenal odor, also known as “old people smell” or aging body odor, is a harmless scent that is associated with the elderly. It is often described as having a greasy, pungent, and musty odor.

What Age Does “Old People Smell” Start?

While “old people smell” isn’t directly linked to a specific age, it can start as early as age 40.

This common odor begins in some individuals at 40 or older, as production of 2-nonenal increases with age.

In addition, factors such as diet, medicine, and overall health can significantly influence when and how this scent develops.

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What Causes “Old People Smell”?

Curious about what causes aging body odor? Let’s explore the different factors that can contribute to this unique scent.

1. 2-Nonenal Compound

As people age, their skin starts producing more of 2-nonenal — a chemical compound that has a distinct grassy and greasy scent, which is also a key component of buckwheat and aged beer.

2. Changes in Skin Glands

The function and composition of skin glands, including sweat and sebaceous glands, can change with age.

3. Medicine

Medications, such as pseudoephedrine, opioids, or thyroid medications, can alter body odor.

The interaction between multiple medications can also create unique body odors. For example,

4. Chronic Conditions

Conditions such as uremia (a result of kidney failure), eczema, and diabetes can cause specific changes in body odor.

Uremia can lead to a urine-like smell due to the accumulation of waste products in the body, while diabetes can produce a sweet or acetone-like odor due to issues with sugar metabolism.

5. Hormonal Changes

Hormones can significantly influence body odor, as they regulate the secretion of sweat and sebum.

These hormonal changes can affect the skin’s moisture levels and its microbiome, which in turn can change how the skin smells.

For example, decreases in estrogen and testosterone levels can impact the body’s natural smell.

6. Diet

As metabolism slows with age, the body may take longer to process these foods, which, in turn, intensifies their impact on the body’s natural smell.

For example, consuming meals rich in spices, garlic, and onions can result in a stronger body odor, as they contain sulfur-like compounds that can mix with sweat and increase odor.

The food you eat can change how you smell naturally, as it affects the composition of your sweat​

How to Manage “Old People Smell”

While nonenal odor is a natural part of aging, there are effective strategies you and your elderly loved one can use to minimize its presence and impact.

To manage aging body odor:

  • Open windows to improve airflow and minimize odor buildup in your loved one’s home or care facility. You can also use a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) air purifier to improve the indoor air quality.
  • Prepare meals that have less garlic and certain spices, such as cumin or curry, for your loved one. Consider incorporating fresh fruits into their diet to help eliminate toxins that can cause unpleasant odors.
  • Utilize a mild, fragrance-free detergent and ensure your loved one’s clothes are completely dry before use to prevent odors from sticking to the fabric. Fabrics can trap odors, so it’s important to wash clothing, bedding, and towels regularly.
  • Encourage your loved one to use gentle, fragrance-free soaps and moisturizers to cleanse and hydrate their skin. This routine can also help minimize the production of odors while keeping the skin’s protective barrier intact.
  • Encourage your loved one to use a washcloth or soft body brush to gently scrub away dead skin cells.
  • Ensure your loved one changes their clothes daily, including socks and underwear.
  • Motivate your loved one to maintain a healthy weight to reduce body odor since excess fat can contribute to it.
  • Advise your loved one to practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or biofeedback to learn how to manage stress and reduce sweating.
  • Make sure your loved one wears clothes made of linen, cotton, or wool, as these breathable fabrics can help reduce sweat and moisture buildup on the skin.
  • Ensure your loved one uses deodorants to eliminate odor without stopping sweat. In addition, deodorants contain fragrances to mask any unpleasant odor.
  • Schedule an appointment with your loved one’s healthcare provider if you notice changes in their odor. Your loved one’s doctor can consider adjusting the medication or suggest strategies to manage side effects, including those that affect body scent.
  • Arrange regular medical check-ups for your loved one to help manage chronic conditions like diabetes and kidney issues, as these illnesses can impact the body’s natural smell.
  • Make sure your loved one drinks plenty of water to help flush toxins from the body, potentially reducing the production of odorous compounds. A study found that elderly individuals should drink around nine to 13 cups, depending on their gender.
  • Consider using natural remedies, such as applying small amounts of baking soda or apple cider vinegar to your loved one’s body parts that are prone to odor, such as their feet or underarms. Remember to use these remedies regularly for the best results, and always perform a patch test on a small skin area first to prevent any adverse reactions.
A senior male drinking a bottle of water while exercising​
Make sure your loved one drinks at least eight glasses of water to help flush out toxins and reduce body odor​

Explore Senior Care Services to Help Your Loved One Manage “Old People Smell” & More

Dealing with unpleasant smells as your loved one ages requires you to be understanding and patient.

And while nonenal odor might be a bit musty, it’s considered less bothersome compared to regular body odor. In fact, people often describe “old people smell” as smelling like cucumbers, aged beer, or old books, which are not inherently unpleasant scents.

At Always Best Care, our caring and skilled team is here to support you and your loved one throughout the challenging yet natural process of aging.

We provide professional care to ease aging-related discomforts like nonenal odor, incontinence, and other common issues.

Serving 225 territories across the United States and Canada, we deliver high-quality care to achieve the best patient experience.

Our top-notch elderly care services include:

  • In-home care services: Our team provides uninterrupted care at home, including meal preparations, medication reminders, companionship, and personal hygiene services.
  • Skilled home health care services: In certain areas, we offer expert care for chronic illnesses, tailoring plans to your loved one’s needs.
  • Specialized home care services: We use high-tech tools like balance trackers, emergency response systems, and remote monitoring to continuously support your loved one’s health.
  • Respite care services: Whether you need a caregiver for a short period or longer, we’ve got you covered. We can take care of your loved one while you focus on other responsibilities.
  • Dementia care services: We offer compassionate care for your loved one with dementia, focusing on their safety, comfort, and well-being.
  • Senior living referral services: Allow us to guide you to the best senior living options for your loved one.
  • Veterans assistance program: We assist veterans in receiving financial aid for care, as our way of showing gratitude for their service.

FAQs About “Old People Smell”

Do you have more questions about “old people smell” that we didn’t cover? Find the answers below.

What causes “old people smell” in the house?

“Old people smell” in the house often comes from the buildup of nonenal, a chemical that skin naturally produces more of as people age.

This substance, combined with inadequate ventilation, insufficient cleaning, and the presence of fabrics that can trap odors, contributes to the distinctive smell.

Regular cleaning, good hygiene, and proper ventilation can help reduce or eliminate this odor.

Does everyone experience “old people smell” the same way?

No, not everyone experiences “old people smell” in the same way. Individual sensitivity to smells, cultural perceptions, and personal experiences can significantly influence how one perceives this odor.

In addition, the intensity and character of the scent can vary from person to person due to differences in health, hygiene practices, and living environments.

Is it possible to prevent “old people smell”?

No, you can’t prevent old people smell or aging body odor. However, you can encourage your loved one to bathe regularly, wear breathable fabrics, and use fragrance-free soaps to manage unpleasant odors.

In addition, preparing a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, maintaining a clean living environment, and ensuring proper ventilation for your loved one can reduce the presence of musty odor.

Find out how we can help your elderly loved one.
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