Why Do Old People Smell?

That old person smell. You know what I’m talking about. You walk into the home of an aging senior or perhaps give a hug to an older relative at a holiday meal and there it is. Sort of a grassy, musky or, some say, fishy smell and it’s on everything from clothing to shoes, bedding to bath towels and seemingly in the air around the vast majority of aging seniors.

Lots of seniors are known to shower twice per day, splash on extra perfume or switch to stronger aftershave in efforts to combat this signature smell of old age. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with personal hygiene. Given the name Nonenal by Japanese researchers, this smell tends to be part of the natural aging process and begins in adults over the age of 40. Yes, that’s right … 40. Nonenal remains on the skin after bathing and even after you scrub your skin squeaky clean therefore layering on extra quantities of masking agents won’t really help. In fact, whatever lovely smelly things you normally wear will mix with Nonenal and may actually produce a rather odd scent after the first blush of your favourite perfume disappears.

So what causes Nonenal? The body’s natural oils that oxidize more quickly as aging skin becomes weaker eventually overwhelm your naturally occurring antioxidants. In turn exposure of these oxidized oils to the oxygen in the air around us causes the formation of Nonenal. Because it isn’t water soluble and therefore can’t be washed off, Nonenal stays on us, on our clothing and, basically, on anything we come in contact with.

Scientists say that keeping ourselves healthy can assist with reducing Nonenal. Exercise regularly, stop smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, sleep well, eat properly and avoid stress are on the list of things to assist with reducing that ‘old person smell.’

There is a line of thought that because aging seniors can also have a diminished sense of smell, they may not smell the bacteria that are the result of deciding that they can wear the shirt twice or go two weeks without changing their bedding because the physical effort becomes greater as we age. Of course, we know that Nonenal is not water soluble so laundry can’t be expected to take care of that issue however the other normal body secretions will add another layer to the ‘old person smell’ so making sure your clothing, bedding, coats and other items that you wear are kept clean after wear can assist with removing a layer or two of unpleasant odours.

For many years the Japanese have used extract of persimmon along with green tea to counteract Nonenal and, while North American manufacturers haven’t quite caught on to including persimmon extract in a lot of their products, there are a few soaps that can be sourced and extracts can be found in health food stores.

Nonenal won’t be eliminated entirely through using such products, however approaching the problem from both the inside and outside through diet, exercise, healthy living plus extract of persimmon and green tea in addition to making sure that your clothing stays clean and your house is aired out regularly may reduce that immediate sense of ‘old person smell.’ You may also want to experiment with new perfumes and aftershaves until you find something that compliments your natural Nonenal instead of trying to mask it. Me? I’m putting persimmon extract on my Christmas list.