When little kids say that their grandparents smell funny, it is very likely that they are not lying or being facetious.

As it turns out, scientific studies carried out by several scholarly organizations have concluded that the elderly population has a very specific odor that is easily recognizable and off-putting to most.

This is the reason why nursing homes from around the world have developed the unfortunate reputation of smelling bad, and that unpleasant odors associated with old age are part of their reality. However, there is more to this tale than meets the eye.

Why Do Nursing Homes Smell Bad?

The bad smell in some nursing homes is caused by a combination of odors. The scent of bodily fluids, cleaning supplies and just old people smell in general all add to the familiar odor of a nursing home.

But it does not need to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t. If you visit senior living facilities that have the strong odors listed above, it may be a distinct sign of neglect, and you may want to take action.

Why Do Old People Smell?

As we grow older, our bodies grow weaker and frailer, our memory and cognitive capacity deteriorate. Old age is not forgiving, and even the way we smell changes with the passing of the years.

It is very likely that on more than one occasion you’ve been around the elderly and noticed a peculiar and somewhat unpleasant smell in the air.

Why Do Old People Smell?

This sickly-sweet and rancid aroma is commonly known around the world as “old people smell”, and is often mistakenly associated with a lack of proper hygiene, incontinence, or worse.

The truth is that in most cases, when an elderly person smells like “old people smell” it is not because they are unclean, but rather because “old people smell” is a legitimate side-effect of growing older.

Various scientific studies have consistently identified the source of “old people smell”. And as it turns out, this smell has nothing to do with perspiration or a lack of hygiene. The scientific reason behind this rancid smell is that the skin begins to emit and oxidase a foul-smelling molecule called 2-Nonenal as a result of chemical and hormonal changes caused by aging.

Other rank-smelling substances, such as benzothiazole and dimethyl sulfone, are also found in elevated concentrations in the elderly population.

With this information in mind, it makes perfect sense to assume that if the elderly emanate a distinctly unpleasant smell, then nursing homes will smell equally unpleasant. However, this is simply not the case.

First of all, the degree to which different people dislike “old people smell” varies greatly. While some people find it truly repulsive, others, like myself, find it bearable and not entirely unsettling.

Second, the smell is typically very light and not detectable from great distances. In other words, you need to have close contact with an elderly person to be able to detect their particular smell.

Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing homes exist to provide care and supervision to the elderly. When this care is found lacking, due to neglect or poor management, a variety of telling symptoms can manifest. And this is the real reason why some nursing homes smell.

Nursing Home Neglect Can Cause a Bad Smell

There is a large segment of the retirement home resident population that suffers from a variety of conditions that limit movement and autonomy, which can impede or hinder their ability to bathe and clean themselves properly.

When a facility is understaffed or not well-managed, these patients or residents will not be adequately taken care of and they won’t receive the assistance they require to be clean and healthy. With many patients unable to bathe on their own, and others needing to use adult diapers for incontinence, you can see how this lack of supervision could quickly escalate and become a serious issue.

How To Get Rid Of Nursing Home Smell

Here are some quick tips on how to get rid of nursing home smell:

  • Remove Contaminations: Target the problem at the source. Remove any soiled or dirty clothing or equipment from the area immediately
  • Keep Clean: Regular cleaning is essential in preventing bad smells from developing. All areas of the nursing home should be cleaned on a regular basis, including bathrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms.
  • Ventilate: Make sure the nursing home is well ventilated. This will help to circulate fresh air in and remove any bad smells.
  • Use An Air Purifier: A high-quality air purifier can help remove specific smells, including those from hospitals and nursing homes. Go for quality here. You don’t have to break the bank but cheaper models are generally less effective.
  • Mask The Smell: Whether it be with flowers, air freshener other sprays. Once you are able to reduce the smell it will be easier to cover with your favorite scents.

If you ever walk into a nursing home and detect the smell of urine, feces, and/or vomit, you should be instantly alarmed as this is a sign of negligence. You should also be on the lookout for the smell of chemicals, heavy-duty cleaning products, or strong smelling fresheners used in the environment to cover the noxious smells.

In such cases, we strongly recommend that you file a complaint with the pertinent Health Departments and seek possible legal advice.

Otherwise, a nursing home should smell clean and have a somewhat antiseptic, hospital-like aroma.