Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Here's Sniffing at You!

As I grow older, I find I am becoming sensitive to and aware of more things. For instance, I am much less willing to waste my time paying attention to morons (which puts severe limits on my political activity, let me tell you), I am making the personal acquaintance of joints and muscles I'd forgotten I had (particularly early in the morning, late in the evening, and after a few minutes of outdoor play with the grandchildren), and I have increasing concerns about being able to afford my retirement without making serious cutbacks in my lifestyle (such as eating twice a week and living in a large cardboard box).

And then there's the whole old-guy smell thing.

You may have seen this news story that was widely reported a week or two ago: Old People Smell Different, Not Worse. It discusses the perception that there is a certain "old person" smell that we take on as we grow older, generally thought of as a musty, medicine-y smell, perhaps overlying the aromas of ... um ... body waste, Lysol, and other unpleasant things. However, according to the article, quoting a study of body odors conducted by Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the characteristic odor of the elderly is actually more or less neutral and "a lot more pleasant than the body odor coming from younger folks" ... young men, in particular.  According to the study,

"Women's odors were perceived to have about the same neutral smell and mild intensity throughout all three stages of life, while young and middle-aged men's odors were rated more intense and worse-smelling. But elderly men's odors were perceived to be quite similar to those of elderly women: mild and neutral."

You can read the whole study here, if you want to sniff around the topic a bit more.

I'll spare you the details of how the test was done (although it is similar to the concept of the Pheromone Parties that I described in a post back in April, which you can read here). Let us just say that if you have ever been around a group of young men who have been sweating heavily, there can be no doubt in your mind that you have been around a group of young men sweating heavily.

The point of the article is that the scent we often associate with elderly people is not the natural scent of the individual, but is often characterized by the results of disease or of poor hygiene, which is often related to physical disabilities.

It's sometimes hard to tell what we really smell like, living as we do in an era of deodorants, perfumes, colognes, powders, and other such things we use to alter our natural smells. We have (well, most of us have) an intense aversion to smelling like an ox in August in Northern Virginia. There are worse things, though, as you know if you have ever shared a seat on the bus or Metro with a woman who has marinated herself in cheap perfume, or a man who seems to have bathed in some expensive cologne advertised to attract women. As a ballroom dancer, I have a deadly fear of two things: bad breath and body odor, both of which can make a three-minute waltz a ghastly experience for an unfortunate partner. And as a geezer-in-training, I'm sensitive to the whole smelly-old-person stereotype.

So ...

I think I'll go take a shower, and then head off to work. It just makes ... uh ... scents.

Have a good day. Mind the hygiene. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

LOL! I had to chuckle through this post because my mother and I just had a conversation about body odors and 'old man smells' with my father!

eViL pOp TaRt said...

The idea is intriguing. At what age approximately does this "old person scent" emerge? We live in a manufactured scent world, it's hard to know what is real sometimes.

KathyA said...

So bizarre that you've posted this today. Yesterday when I went to the gym, I got on my usual elliptical machine and was broadsided with the worst smell... I wondered if it were me, but thought I would have noticed it before. It got immediately better when the young woman who was working out beside me left.
Don't know what is worse: the cheap perfume or the smell of the unwashed. Wait, I think I know the answer to this. Don't want to appear 'inscentsitive'. :)

PS I can never make out the #s and 'words' on your 'robot checker'! :(

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

The old people smell that comes to my mind immediately after reading this was of me of walking into my grandmothers home and having it smell like metholatum. It immediately would smack you in the face- always. My sister and I still laugh about that smell in her home. We wondered if the new homeowners had to defog the place to rid that smell.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Artificially masked scents have become the norm; and other kinds are held in disapproval. Still, I'll follow the regimen of showering daily or more; after all, it's the South here.

Duckbutt said...

Supposedly schizophrenics have a characteristic odor, due to enzyme deficiencies. Characteristic odors are linked with cancer, liver failure, and other conditions.

Mike said...

You're going to get a sniff test Thursday night. I haven't decided who to assign the sniffing to yet.