"It smells like old people."

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old people 1.jpgLet's face it; we all think old people smell weird, we've all said, "It smells like old people in here," and we all know exactly what smell is associated with 'old people.'  Well, on May 30 of this year, Johan Lundström proved that this wasn't just a coincidence and that there actually is a specific odor given off by old people.  Johan Lundstöm is an assistant professor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and conducted his research with his international team.  Lundstöm put pads under the armpits 44 participants that consisted of young people, middle aged people, and people over 75 years old for five nights in a row.  41 volunteers were then asked to distinguish between the smells.  The volunteers were all young people and rated the odors that they classified as 'old people,' as "less intense and less unpleasant" than that of the odors produced by the pads they categorized as middle aged and young people odors. Middle aged men smelled the worst to the people smelling the pads.  The volunteers were highly successful in identifying the 'old person' odors, but it was harder for them to categorize the young vs. the middle aged odors.  One reason Lundstöm gave as to why old people smell differently was that as humans age, the glands on the skin act differently and different types and amounts of bacteria are secreted through these glands.
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Another reason that Lundstöm and his researchers gave was that humans were able to distinguish between different smells that different age groups gave off just like other animals are able to do.  Wild animals are able to smell out mates that are young and able to reproduce.  They discriminate against older animals because they are not able to reproduce like younger ones are.  Therefore, maybe as humans, we subconsciously think in our animal brains that old people have a specific smell because we know that they can't reproduce and further our society.  Lundstöm controlled as much as he could with the study.  For example, he instructed the participants to use unscented soap and shampoo throughout the five day period and to refrain from eating potent, spicy foods that lead to different body odor smells.  He also made sure that the participants did not drink alcohol or smoke during the study, in case that led to a different odor excretion.  

The specific old person smell could be from many different things.  They don't bathe as often as younger people do and they often don't wash their clothes as much either.  The amount of medication and the medication they have to take is usually different from the medication that is typically taken by middle aged and younger people.  They also have older things in their homes that have sat around for decades longer than younger and middle aged people and have had that extra time to collect odors and dust. 

Of course, Lundstöm's studies has some flaws, especially with the controlling aspects.  Even though he instructed the participants who wore the pads under their armpits were instructed not to do certain things, there is no way to make sure that they didn't.  Without having the participants in a controlled laboratory setting, it is impossible to control every aspect that could alter the specific odors produced by the participants.  Also, the people who smelled and categorized the pads were only young people.  Lundstöm didn't prove that old people smelled different to all age groups by doing this, he just proved that young people think they do.  It would be interesting to see if a different age group or groups with people from all ages felt the same as the participants in Lundstöm's study.  Lundstöm proved what everyone has been saying all along, however this could be problematic too.  I was unable to find other scientific studies that confirmed what Lundstöm found, so there is a possibility his results were due to chance.  I am quick to accept his findings, but I think old people smell weird.  Is there anyone out there that thinks old people smell normal? Do you think Lundstöm's results are legitimate? What are your opinions about the stench old people give off? Are there other studies that you are aware of?

**All sources used are in the links within the blog.

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1 Comment

I think it's so interesting when humans are compared to animals as having similar instincts. Your theory about humans subconsciously smelling older people as bad because they are unable to reproduce is so interesting. This made me wonder about a possible other type of experiment that could be done to prove or disprove this theory. Maybe, alongside the blind testings, they could have other testings where age is disclosed and see if this has any effect on how the participants interpret the smells. Does knowing that someone is elderly, or being manipulated and told that an elderly person is actually young, have an effect on how they interpret their smells.

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