A lot of us remember going to our grandparents' homes and smelling ... that smell. Perhaps it was a combination of older furniture, the lavender scents that our grandparents' homes often favored, soaps and other scents that combine to mean "old person smell".
And it's not just the home, it's the actual grandparent. Grandma doesn't smell bad, she just smells, well, old. An indescribable scent that only, it seems, pertains to the older person.
It's known that humans smell differently as they get older. Babies don't have any kind of body odor, aside from diapers, and breastfed babies have diapers that don't smell bad at all.
Children don't have underarm odor until they enter the preteen or teen years and as adults get older, their bodies smell very different than when they were younger.
Scientists from Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute in Philadelphia, conducted a study to see why this old person smell exists, and found that this scent is global and not connected to any particular culture or country.
To test for this smell, adults in different age categories were given t-shirts with special pads in the arm pit areas and slept in these shirts for five consecutive nights. They were asked to eat bland diets and not use scented products or anything that could change a person's natural scent.
The pads were then placed in jars, and over forty young adults were asked to smell the jars. They were asked to pick out the scents they believed belonged to older people and they did this far more successfully than scents from the younger adults who wore the pads.
Incidentally, the old people smell was considered more pleasant than the other pads.
Looking to see if there were lifestyle or dietary differences in older people that could cause this special scent, researchers could not find anything (including medications) that could pinpoint why old people have this smell.
But what they did ascertain was that the cells in older people die more quickly and may give off a different scent as a result.