Old People Smell....Sweeter! Here's The Science To Prove It

Can you guess what demographic smells the worst?

Fresh air
Fresh air
Sabine Maurer

BERLIN - “He smells old.” Whenever the 41-year-old woman hugs her father, that’s the first thought that crosses her mind. She’s right and her dad is no exception. Body odor changes over the course of a life, and older people do smell differently than younger ones.

"This has always been suspected, but now a study has shown that it’s true," says Professor Jessica Freiherr, a smell researcher at the Aachen University Hospital, in Germany. In the Philadelphia study she’s referring to, younger subjects had no trouble accurately identifying the smell of older subjects.

But there was one big surprise: by comparison with the smell of younger and middle-aged people, the “old” smell was described as the nicest and least strong. The smell of young to middle-aged men was described as being the worst.

The reason for that is the male hormone testosterone, the metabolites of which exude a strong smell. Unsurprisingly, the smell of women was perceived as much more neutral.

That participants in the American study found the smell of older people agreeable is, according to Freiherr, down to the fact that they actually didn’t know what they were smelling: "If they had been told it was old peoples’ sweat, the evaluation would most certainly have been different."

To conduct the study, pads were sewn into shirts and people were asked to wear the shirts for three days. Subjects were then asked to smell the pads.

"Context is very important to smell. If somebody thinks of a sock while smelling cheese, they will describe the cheese as smelling like feet,” she says. She believes the idea that old people smell bad probably came from the various smells that assail the nostrils in many retirement homes.

Body odor is the result of the components of sweat being broken down by bacteria. Sweat is 99% water that evaporates. Other components include sugar, ammonia, urea and body salts like sodium.

Bacteria like it best where it’s warm and damp – places like armpits, feet packed tightly into shoes, even the folds of very pronounced wrinkles. There’s a lot for them to feed on in such places, so they multiply rapidly and at some point begin to smell bad.

Some older people smell less strong than they did when they were younger. As hormone levels decline, the protective subcutaneous fat layer of skin is lost, and gland secretions change. If they do have a strong body odor (and this applies not only to older people) this can be due to any number of things. Poor hygiene, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, certain foods and being overweight all have a negative impact on body odor.

A mustiness

"Another reason for body odor in older people are the illnesses that frequently come with age," says Dr. Heiko Grimme, a Stuttgart-based dermatologist. The breath of people with kidney ailments smells like urine, for example. And incontinence is another issue with older folks.

Additionally, older people may be taking medication that changes body odor. Other reasons cited by Grimme are that some older people use soaps and scents that smell “old” to others, or a musty smell of old furniture gets into their clothes.

In many people 55 and older, the sense of smell starts to diminish so they may not be as aware as a younger person of how they smell.

Grimme advises elderly people to become aware of all these things and to be sticklers for personal hygiene: "You can’t let yourself go." Freiherr says that it is helpful for people with strong body odor to stick to wearing cotton or clothing made of other natural fibers.

Clothes that have been worn should on no account be returned to the closet. They must be laundered, otherwise "the bacteria remain in them and go on living in the closet."

For those suffering from incontinence, Birgit Huber of the IKW, the Frankfurt-based industrial association for body care products and detergents, recommends absorbent products like pads or incontinence underwear. Over four million people in Germany suffer from incontinence, most of them over 65.

"Perfumed hair and skin products are a good idea along with a powerful deodorant for those suffering from strong body odor," she says. Deodorants stop the proliferation of bacteria, and hide the smell. They should be applied to clean skin. There are also antiperspirants that stop or reduce sweating so less bacteria are produced and the wearer’s body odor stays decent.

Any advice for those who live or work with older people whose body odor is unpleasant? "Always address the issue, otherwise these folks may find themselves getting isolated because others don’t want to be around them," says psychotherapist Christa Roth-Sackenheim.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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