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Why Do Old People Smell? Understanding the Unique Scent Associated With the Elderly

Why Do Old People Smell? Understanding the Unique Scent Associated With the Elderly

As your loved one navigates their way through the different stages of aging, their bodies undergo a multitude of changes that affect their mobility, memory, skin, and even their body odor.

While some of these changes are more noticeable than others, one that is often unexpected is the onset of nonenal odor — often referred to as old people smell.

If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, knowing how to properly care for their hygiene and well-being is key to keeping them healthy, comfortable, and happy as they age.

We’ll explore old people smell in detail, explain why it happens, and share how this natural aging process can be managed.

We’ll also introduce you to our services at Always Best Care, and explain how our experienced and compassionate team can help you care for your elderly loved one while promoting their well-being, independence, and overall quality of life.

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What is Nonenal Odor?

Nonenal odor, also known as old people smell or aging body odor, is a common, harmless condition that is a natural part of the aging process.

This odor has a musty, grassy, or greasy scent that is reminiscent of aged beer or buckwheat. Nonenal odor is common in the elderly and it can start as early as age 40.

Aging Body Odor vs. Regular Body Odor

While old people smell is the result of aging, regular body odor is the primary result of poor hygiene and can happen at any age.

With age, the skin’s natural antioxidant defenses weaken, and the composition of sweat and skin oils change.

With these changes, the presence of a natural compound called 2-nonenal increases. This compound is produced by the body when fatty acids on the surface of the skin break down over time.

On the other hand, regular body odor is a result of sweat and bacteria on the skin. When you perspire, the sweat produced by your sweat glands is initially odorless.

However, when sweat encounters bacteria on the skin, it is broken down into compounds that release a sweet, sour, or tangy scent. Factors that contribute to regular body odor include poor hygiene, diet, and stress.

A healthcare professional talking to a senior​
Old people smell is common in seniors, but it can start as early as age 40​

What Causes “Old People Smell”?

In addition to the presence of 2-nonenal, old people smell is influenced by a wide range of factors, such as diet, hormonal changes, and environmental factors.

Key factors that play a role in nonenal odor include:

  • Hormonal changes: With age, hormonal fluctuations can affect body odor. For example, during menopause, estrogen levels in women drop, making way for higher levels of testosterone. This hormonal change enables a person to produce more sweat, which can lead to attracting more bacteria.
  • Sweat composition: Sweat is composed of water, salt, and fat. The composition of sweat changes with age, which can lead to an altered body odor. Because the elderly often produce more ammonia in their sweat, this factor can contribute to a distinct and pungent smell.
  • Decreased ability to self-clean: Age often leads to weakened mobility and cognitive decline, which can lead to difficulty in maintaining proper hygiene.
  • Medicine: Medicine can change the body’s chemistry, affecting the composition of sweat. For example, anticholinergics reduce the production of sweat, allowing odor-causing compounds to accumulate on the skin. On the other hand, antibiotics can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, which can also lead to changes in body odor.
  • Diet: From spices and caffeine to even acid produced by asparagus, specific foods can cause strong-smelling compounds to be excreted through the sweat glands or urine.
  • Environmental factors: The smell of a senior’s living space can also contribute to old people smell. Factors such as poor ventilation, mold, or mildew can make rooms smell musty, which can then transfer to the senior’s clothes or skin.
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Tips for Caring for Someone With Aging Body Odor

With proper hygiene practices, you can improve your senior loved one’s comfort and quality of life.

When caring for someone who is experiencing aging body odor:

  1. Make sure your loved one bathes regularly. Provide a mild, fragrance-free soap to get rid of excess oils and dead skin cells that can contribute to odor.
  2. Encourage your loved one to gently exfoliate their skin with a washcloth or a soft body brush to remove dead skin cells. (Read our guide on skin care tips for the elderly for more info.)
  3. Ensure your loved one stays hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of water a day to help keep their skin healthy. (Find more info on the importance of staying hydrated for seniors for more info.)
  4. Remind your loved one to moisturize their skin once a day to help keep it hydrated.
  5. Prepare a balanced diet for your loved one that includes food rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals that contribute to the formation of 2-nonenal.
  6. Encourage your loved one to regularly exercise. Exercises such as walking, Pilates, yoga, or swimming can help improve blood circulation and regulate hormones, reducing the likelihood of odor. (Read our blog to find out why swimming is recommended for seniors)
  7. Encourage your loved one to maintain a healthy weight, as excess body fat can contribute to odor.
  8. Make sure your loved one gets seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep supports the body’s natural repair and detoxification processes, to maintain healthy skin and reduce stress that can contribute to excessive sweating and odor-causing bacteria.
  9. Frequently wash your loved one’s clothes, bed linens, and towels to eliminate any lingering odor. Use mild, fragrance-free laundry detergent and add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to further eliminate odors.
  10. Make sure your loved one changes their clothes daily — especially underwear and socks.
  11. Open windows to facilitate ventilation and reduce the accumulation of odor in your loved one’s home or caring facility. Another option is to use an air purifier with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to further improve the air quality indoors.
  12. Make sure your loved one wears clothes that are made of cotton or linen. Cotton and linen are breathable fabrics that allow air to circulate freely, reducing the buildup of sweat and moisture on the skin.
  13. Prevent your loved one from smoking or drinking alcohol, as these substances introduce chemicals and toxins into the body that alter the smell of sweat.
  14. Consult a dermatologist. If old people smell persists despite your efforts, consider speaking to a dermatologist to form a personalized care plan.

By incorporating these tips into your loved one’s daily routine, you can minimize old people smell and help your loved one maintain their personal hygiene, dignity, and quality of life.

A caregiver helping a senior exercise​
Encourage your loved one to regularly exercise to regulate hormones and improve blood circulation​

Maintaining Personal Hygiene for the Elderly at Always Best Care Senior Services

At Always Best Care Senior Services, our caring, compassionate, and trained team is dedicated to supporting you and your loved one.

Our professional care services are designed to reduce the discomfort that comes with aging, including nonenal odor, incontinence in the elderly, and other common challenges that often arise.

We recognize the challenges that you and your loved one face, which is why we offer the highest quality services tailored to your loved one’s unique needs and circumstances.

Our services include:

  • In-home care services, such as laundry, light housekeeping, bathing, grooming and dressing, nutritional monitoring, and nutritional education and support
  • Specialized home care services, such as a care plan that is tailored to your loved one’s needs
  • Respite care services, where we can provide you with temporary relief by taking responsibility of your senior loved one for a short period of time. You can take this opportunity to enjoy a full night’s sleep, recharge and rejuvenate, spend quality time with other family members, or run errands.
  • Senior living referral services, where we help you identify the most suitable living arrangements for your senior loved one, whether it’s a specialized senior housing community or a private room within a safe, home-like environment.

Wrapping Up on How to Care for Someone With Old People Smell

Nonenal odor or old people smell is a distinct scent that develops with age. It is the result of the breakdown of unsaturated fatty acids on the skin’s surface, producing a distinct, musty, or grassy scent.

Caring for a family member with this type of scent requires empathy, understanding, and patience.

By encouraging your loved one to maintain good hygiene and making adjustments to their diet and lifestyle, you can help them minimize this type of odor so they can feel more comfortable in their own skin.

At Always Best Care, we strive to ensure that your loved one receives the highest quality of care and support. Contact our dedicated team to arrange a consultation and find out how we can help.

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