|Old people illustration|
The distinctive "old people smell" you may have noticed when visiting your grandparents most likely was not your imagination, a new study shows.
When pieces of worn out pads were placed in the armpits of young, middle-aged and elderly people for five consecutive nights, study participants could reliably distinguish the body odor of the elderly, who were older than 75, the researchers found.
"The results of this study support the concept of an 'old person smell,'" an international team of researchers wrote in the journal PLoS ONE.
The idea that elderly people have a distinctive odor exists in many cultures, and often the smell is said to be unpleasant. But this probably has more to do with negative perceptions of old age, rather than with the scent, according to study researcher Johan Lundstrom, an assistant professor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In the study, participants said that the smell of older people are less intense and less unpleasant than the body odor of 20 to 30-year-old people and middle-aged 45 to 55-year-olds. Participants confirmed that middle aged people have the worst body odor. The smell of women of all ages were rated as less intense than men, and closer to neutral odor for young and middle aged women.