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Elderly parents

Parents house smelling- help!

19 replies

Exasperateddonut · 26/09/2023 22:15

My elderly parents house smells. It’s really hard to explain. It’s smells unaired a lot of the time but when you leave you realise absolutely everything smells. Your skin, your hair, your clothes. Anything that has been in the house has this same musty smell. Flour smell musty, biscuits, any food stuff. Even plastic.

I don’t know what it is, I don’t know how to get rid of it for them. You don’t even have to be there long and you’ll still smell.

The real issue is they won’t acknowledge it and tell me I’m over reacting. Im absolutely not. It smells so bad.

As an aside I don’t know how to tell them that their personal hygiene needs to be better. They are so very resistant to absolutely everything. Mum has dementia and I’m fairly sure Dad also does too.

I just need help to identify what it would be and what the hell I can do. Help!

OP posts:
maxelly · 27/09/2023 11:48

I'm sorry to hear this, these things are so difficult to manage and awkward conversations to have. My best guess at the source of the smell (excluding anything obvious such as rotting food or smoking) is damp, is their house well maintained, particularly the roof and guttering? I am guessing they don't regularly open windows, dust and hoover etc to clear the air? Is there any mouldy spots you can see, do they have extractor fans in the kitchen and bathroom and remember to use them? How do they manage laundry, do they dry clothes inside as this can cause musty smells too too. Would they accept a handyman to come around and see if any damp or other structural issues can be identified (if they're resistant you could perhaps use some gentle deception/white lies e.g. saying it's important for their building insurance premiums to do regular maintenance or perhaps you conveniently have a 'friend of a friend' that's a handyman/builder in need of some casual work?). Age Concern are a really helpful charity and they offer fully DBS checked handymen, home helps, cleaners etc who are used to working with the elderly and won't embarrass them about the state of their house or anything like that (they will have to pay of course). They might well accept advice/help from a paid person more so than from you?

Re the personal hygiene, sorry to ask you to be graphic, are we talking toileting issues here or is it just they're not washing themselves or their clothes as often as they ought? Do they have any outside help/carers at all at the moment? It can be a really difficult to go from nothing at all to accepting such personal help with washing/wiping etc but UTIs in particular are really dangerous for the elderly and can really exacerbate dementia so it is important this is taken care of. Would they accept a social services assessment to have professional carers visit and help (it could start very gently if they're relatively able with things like taking them on a brief outing, making cups of tea/simple meals, helping them to the bathroom and reminding them to wash, it doesn't have to go from 0 to full on personal care)? Do they have suitable washing facilities or are they trying to clamber in and out of an unsuitable shower above the bath or whatever? Have them got grab rails and shower stools and other aids to make washing safe? Are they using any incontinence products?

As a very simple measure could you ensure they have plenty of supplies of wipes (I know not eco friendly but needs must), clean pants, tena pads if needed etc so at least if there are accidents it's quick and easy to clean up? Personally I have tried to approach these difficult conversations with elderly relatives as being about them being kept well and living independently at home, maintaining their dignity etc for as long as possible rather than it being the start of a slippery slope to being in a home, losing all control etc which is of course what many people most fear. Best to start having these conversations about their wants and preferences now though and do bear in mind, hard as it is, while they still have mental capacity it's up to them to make these decisions, even if they make unwise ones like not accepting help and putting themselves at risk. The flipside of that is though that they own their own choices and don't put the burden/blame onto you, they don't get to insist that you do more than you are able/comfortable to do, e.g. many stubborn old folks present it as a choice between family become their carers or they're abandoned with no care at all, rejecting the in-between options of buying in help or having state provided help etc.

This board is such a helpful resource, do post more and check out other threads as well, many people in your position and I'm sure people will have good advice for you...

WishIWasWise · 03/10/2023 15:23

Can you get them some of those trays that absorb moisture from the air? The weather has been very damp lately.

olderbutwiser · 03/10/2023 15:30

Lots of elderly people's houses smell like this. I think it's a combination of lower ongoing levels of hygiene than we've become used to (when did they last have their duvet washed? or even sheets changed? can they see stuff that's dropped on the carpet and can they mop it up? when did they last turf out a cupboard and chuck out out-of-date food? how's your dad or even your mum's aim in the loo?) plus lack of air movement.

Many people with dementia go through a stage of refusing to wash/shower/change their clothes.

If you live in a smell you stop smelling it. Doesn't take long.

Sorry to say I doubt this is going to be an easy fix. For sure check for damp, mice, out of date food, whatever is going on behind and under the fridge, but if they both have dementia I'm afraid there are bigger battles ahead.

YukoandHiro · 03/10/2023 15:47

I agree with damp. Take a dehumidifier in and see what it pulls out. Look for white mould which can be hard to spot but smells much worse than black

AnnaMagnani · 03/10/2023 19:11

Have you looked in their fridge and cupboards?

When my DM was ill there was a terrible smell from her fridge and it turned out to be packed with half full jars, leftovers and all sorts of horrors all well past any use by date.

Mystery why she wasn't dead from food poisoning.

AInightingale · 05/10/2023 16:45

Are you sure it's not nonenal odour? Many elderly people have this, it's caused by some kind of fatty acids forming on the skin. It smells musty and sour, and it does tend to impregnate all other things in the home - blankets, coats, even plastics. Do your parents shower and wash their clothes regularly? My late DF did not shower much as it was too difficult for him mobility wise and the odour was particularly strong on him. Do your parents have an accessible shower?

Exasperateddonut · 05/10/2023 21:39

No to the accessible shower. I am trying to persuade them to have something done about it.

It’s in absolutely everything. But nothing I say or do bloody helps. I’m at my wits end. Worse than toddlers currently. I feel like everything anyone suggests I immediately say ‘no they won’t do that’ but I do genuinely appreciate every bit of advice and help. They will not do anything at all. I cannot clean anything as they do not leave the house, and if I do it whilst they are there then I'm stopped.

As a PP says. There are massive battles ahead.

OP posts:
Totaly · 05/10/2023 21:41

Do they have wall paper? That had ours smells

Totaly · 05/10/2023 21:55


RainCloudsInTheSky · 05/10/2023 22:06

It’ll be damp. It’s the same for my parents. I found mould on the sofa and net curtains the other day. They don’t open windows much at all or out the dehumidifier on.

Don’t really know how to get rid of it apart from open windows more regularly and dry clothes outside - none of which will be done

Wolvesart · 05/10/2023 22:15

If the smell is a bit like cheese or off meat then someone may have a sore that’s infected. My father has skin cancer and it does smell odd as does the treatment for it. Although not so terrible it gets to anyone else

Exasperateddonut · 05/10/2023 22:24

Totaly · 05/10/2023 21:41

Do they have wall paper? That had ours smells

YES! In every room. It’s the 1970’s type too.

OP posts:
ChaliceinWonderland · 05/10/2023 22:32

My old folks house stinks too. They lock all windows so no fresh air.
We avoid going round.
When they visit us, the smell lingers.....

Mum5net · 05/10/2023 22:48

Oh dear, OP, it’s going to be virtually impossible to get the house redecorated if they don’t let you do a moment’s cleaning.

Exasperateddonut · 05/10/2023 23:38

I’m going to have to give up and just let them be aren’t I?

OP posts:
Mum5net · 05/10/2023 23:43

Yep, onto Attendance Allowance and POA battles next. Pick your fights.

Choux · 06/10/2023 08:53

Forget the smell.

Do you have POA set up? If they both have dementia you will need it sometime soon. You can still get it post a diagnosis if they have capacity but best to make this priority one.

Are they both diagnosed and on medication if it's Alzheimer's? This can slow the progress of the disease.

Attendance allowance - do you think they qualify? If so apply.

Can you find anything to help them with that they will let you help them with? They need to see that letting others in is beneficial to them as like many elderly they sound like they know they are becoming less capable and are closing ranks to the outside world to avoid detection.

xxchinese · 06/10/2023 09:07

They probably deny the smell because they sit in that much they've gone nose blind and their used to the smell your smelling most old people have that attic smell about them even my grandma did I would put lenor plug in air fresheners all around their house get get the febreze fabric spay and do the couches and stuff like that the house probably needs a deep clean xxx

KnittedCardi · 06/10/2023 09:18

My DM's husband had a catheter. It was unbelievably appalling. I sometimes had to sit outside for breaks. Neither of them noticed. Literally I could walk in and say that he had a urine infection, I was always right. They also never emptied their fridge, old cheese was their favourite, nor washed their clothes often enough. They had a lot of old fashioned dry clean only stuff, so it only got cleaned once a season. DM often had stains on her clothes, and her husband's trousers were, well, you can imagine.

It's sad.

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