Starting at age 40, our body chemistry starts to change. Do older people tend to have BO?  Well, how can we put this gently…YES!  Unfortunately, many folks would agree that older people do have a distinctive odor more so, than younger individuals. We oftentimes refer to this odor as “old people smell.” This smell is often mistakenly attributed to poor hygiene, but it is actually an inescapable component of body odor that only shows up in older individuals. The smell not only persists on the body and on fabrics, but lingers in elder care facilities, grandparents’ homes and other similar places.

According to scientists, there is one recently found substance in human body odor called 2-Nonenal that tends to increase with aging, according to a study from researchers in Japan published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. The study examined the body odor of folks upwards of age 26. The researchers discovered that 2-Nonenal, an odor that smells like a combination of musty, greasy, and grassy, was detected in participants aged 40-plus.

The unpleasant smell our bodies can give off is caused by bacteria that lives on the skin as it breaks down sweat into acids. Body odor becomes offensive when people fail to take hygienic measures to at least try and keep the funk away. Those who are at a higher risk of having BO are people who are obese, spicy food eaters, and those with certain medical conditions like diabetes.

Believe it or not, sweat itself is virtually odorless. It is the rapid multiplication of bacteria in the presence of sweat and the breaking down of sweat into acids that eventually causes the stink.

Since “old people smell” is a naturally occurring result of aging, how do we address it? It is certainly never comfortable when you have to bring up one’s body odor. While the scent may seem more prominent when visiting a parent or loved one at a senior living facility, it is because the scent is compounded by the increased number of older adults. For children and younger adults, it’s important to address that the smell is a natural part of aging and has no correlation to cleanliness or lack of care.

According to researchers, even though there is nothing that is effective enough to totally eliminate 2-Nonenal, making lifestyle changes can help to minimize it:

  1. Shower or bathe every single day to reduce bacteria on the skin
  2. Dry feet after showering because microorganisms love moisture between toes
  3. Avoid synthetic clothing 
  4. Change stockings or socks daily
  5. Wear leather shoes so that your feet can breathe and rotate shoes as well
  6. Use antiperspirants
  7. Try yoga, meditation or biofeedback to relax and lessen the stressors that bring on perspiration
  8. Change what you eat, steer clear of foods that make you smell bad like garlic and onions
  9. Wash clothing regularly 
  10. Make sure the bedding is clean and air it out between use 

While the “old people smell” may be a bit musty, it’s still ranked less problematic than middle-aged body odor!