"Old people smell" is real

You know the odor of retirement homes, synagogues on high holidays, churches on crowded Sundays, and, perhaps, your grandmother's house? Turns out that "old people smell" seems to be a real thing, according to a new scientific study. Neuroscientist Johan Lundström of the Monell Chemical Senses Center led the study that involved people of various age groups wearing underarm pads as they slept. Then, a separate group of young adults smelled bits of the pads (ewww!) and consistently identified those that came from the 75-90 age group. From CNN:

The root cause of the old person smell is still a mystery, but the study notes that long-term changes to the skin glands may be involved. Lundström suspects it also may be related to an accelerated rate of cell decay. "As cells die at a faster pace, they might give off a different odor that is unique to people with old age," he says.

Another possibility is that the scent indicates an undiagnosed illness. Although the study participants were all outwardly healthy, some may have had underlying ailments that come naturally with old age, Lundström says.

"Scientists confirm existence of 'old person smell'"


    1. It’s fairly obvious that hardly anybody actually followed the link.

      In addition – contrary to the stereotype of the old person smell – the volunteers generally rated the samples from the oldest group as being less intense and less unpleasant than those from the younger groups.

      1. Old Spice, mothballs and athlete’s foot . . . what’s new about that?

        See, actual knowledge would have prevented me from making that joke.

  1. I’ve isolated the chemical responsible for the smell.  I’ll be concentrating it into small spheres and selling it under the generic name, “Moth balls.”

    Nobel plz.

  2. It’s a common knowledge that when people age their skin start to evacuate ‘pee’ for some reason (i think it was compensating for slowness of the normal system rersponsible for that).

    1. Uremia I think, but I think that there are other things that are usually going on as people age that also change the way the smell.  Gallstones can cause bad breath too and are more common as people age. The illness argument is sounding pretty plausible.

      1. And don’t forget that with age comes dampening of the senses, like loss of smell (a sign of Alzheimer’s BTW). So it would seem the elderly haven’t a clue (or a care!) about the odor.

  3. Interesting. I just read about the study in a german newspaper (Süddeutsche Zeitung) but acording to them one of the findings was that the older the group the less unpleasant the odour was perceived by the persons smelling it. The article you link to suggests the same thing, that old peaple smell better than younger…

  4. Ya, old people have a distinctive smell. 
    Whereas babies don’t, toddlers don’t, teens don’t, college students don’t, and all those 20-30-40-50-somethings in the subways and elevators don’t.  
    Bottom line, people smell; mostly like their bottoms.

  5. Alright, nobody said it, so here I go…
    That’s obviously the smell of death.There, I said it.

  6. I’ll p’bly lose my AARP card for revealing this…. That smell is the linger-scent of old person sex. Its ubiquitous among us seniors ‘cuz we’re all doin’ it, all the time. “I’m going upstairs for a napsex”; “Some friends are coming over for teasex”; “I’ll be at the doctor’s office all morning for a blood sugar workupsex”; “Everythingsex these days costs more and takes longer.”; etc.

  7. Hey, David, you know I’m getting pretty old – and I smell great! Like Teen Spirit!

  8. Smelling underarm pads for a living… some people get the best jobs!

    /always associated old people smell as candies no one else eats anymore like Circus Peanuts and Bit-O-Honey

  9. Wake me when they need someone to study the smell of attractive young people…

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