What Causes That "Old-Person Smell" and What to Do About It

104690247

Why do some people smell so bad? Many frail older adults, in particular, often seem to have a distinctly unpleasant body odor. Actually, it's a myth that there's a distinct "odor of aging," according to the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Instead, it's a host of conditions that create scents that comingle.

It's helpful to know what some of these odors are, so you can work on addressing them:

Medications

Alternative: Ask the doctor if there are other drugs to try, or if certain foods should be eliminated while taking the drug.

Topical ointments (Bengay, VapoRub, old Vaseline, etc.)

Alternative: Ask the pharmacy about better-smelling choices that do the same job. For example, some people dip into a jar of petroleum jelly over and over for their lips, not realizing when it begins to smell rancid. Smaller-sized lip balms with fruity scents may be an easy fix.

Mothballs from clothes

Alternative: Try using lavender or cedar blocks.

Tooth decay

Alternative: Keep up with dental appointments, and provide mouthwash.

Incontinence residue on clothes or skin

Alternative: Make sure the person changes and washes frequently.

Unwashed skin (especially between folds)

Alternative: Try keeping containers of diaper wipes around the house; they serve as an instant disposable washcloth for quick cleanups.

Dirty dentures, hearing aids, or other devices

Alternative: Be sure you understand how all these are to be properly cleaned, and do so regularly.

A closed room without much air circulating

Alternative: Keep windows open a crack, at least part of the day. Use odor-eating room deodorizers (not just room sprays that temporarily mask odors).


over 4 years ago, said...

Good information.


over 4 years ago, said...

Just even seeing such a list of odor remnant possibilities was helpful. Mary Ann


over 4 years ago, said...

I am 65 and wonder how I smell to others. I have excellent hygiene and take only anticholesterol medications.


over 4 years ago, said...

My mom has alzheimers and absolutely thoughs a fit when I suggest a sponge bath every day. She gets a shower once a week by our caregiver. Now I invite her into the bathroom everything is ready and I give her a sponge bath. I have learned to stop asking or giving her options I now give her direction and it works so much better for both of us.


over 4 years ago, said...

What is an oder-eating room deodorizer? Can you recommend one, please?


over 4 years ago, said...

Several older people I have known have had that particular "Old Person" smell, and is for real. Even older people with no mental problems who are active and bright can have that old smell. After caring for three Ad patients, only one had that smell: my FIL who refused to bathe or shower. My AD husband's helper caregivers see that he is sparkling clean, showered and shaved. Even they commented (after working with many older people) that Ken doesn't have that "old" smell. I believe it is a buildup of dead skin not washed away often enough. Keeping them clean is the secret. We even still use underarm dedorant for him.


over 4 years ago, said...

It focuses on everyday things that frequently older people fail to recognize as potential odor producing things. Clothes that are not washed frequently have the potential of causing odors


over 4 years ago, said...

i have never thought that "old" people smell any different that other people.


over 4 years ago, said...

Shame on you! Check your facts: the mineral-based petroleum jelly (Vaseline) does NOT go rancid! Only plant- and animal-based fats and oils go rancid. Retract this please. You've just damaged the credibility of all articles published in Caring.com . And the makers of Vaseline might be upset with you, too!


over 4 years ago, said...

I had a wealthy uncle who would not change his "depends" every day because he didn't want to spend the money....too expensive. Some older people smell because this is a problem. My mother never ever smelled as we kept her so clean even into her nineties. Yes, I had to insist she showered with my help, but it worked... I think she was afraid of falling and she was weak. She always felt so much better afterwards.


over 4 years ago, said...

I had no idea vaseline could turn rancid if it's too old. I use it frequently for my dry lips. The other tips were also useful even though they were mostly common sense comments.


over 4 years ago, said...

It's great to have an update and lets face it this just good general hygiene for everyone


over 4 years ago, said...

Wonderful article. This gives me some reasonable answers and solutions when the kids don't want to visit Grandpa because "he smells." Funny that you mentioned mothballs - I just got Mother to get rid of hers because it was driving people away. Thank you so much.


over 4 years ago, said...

I was particularly interested in hearing that dehydration is so common among elderly folks -- and particularly interested in reading that dehydration is one reason they are always feeling cold.


over 4 years ago, said...

When I returned to Wisconsin to my childhood home armed with four options for my father's care (he was diagnosed with dementia and less able to live independently), he had not showered in 6 months! He greeted me on that hot and humid late August day in the same clothes my husband and I saw him wearing earlier that year in March. The clothes were dirtier and so was he. The house was closed up and smelled the kind of musty I imagined of Miss Havisham's home when Pip visited her in the novel Great Expectations. Two weeks later, he was on a plane to California to live with us.


over 4 years ago, said...

I didn't realize that vaseline ever got old, lol!!


over 4 years ago, said...

never thought about the topical ointments


over 4 years ago, said...

A couple of things hadn't occured to me- too easy, I think. Now I know what things to pay more attention to.! Glad to know it's not "heredity" !!


over 4 years ago, said...

I will know what to look for as I age