The second empty nest takes some getting used to


By Marianne Delorey ©

John Andrew Holmes once wrote, “A child enters your home and makes so much noise for 20 years that you can hardly stand it. The child departs, leaving the house so silent that you think you are going mad.” Therefore, many seniors, having lived in relative solitude for decades, find living in an apartment building very challenging. The hardest thing for them to get used to? The day to day noise living in tight quarters — squeaky floors, closing doors, televisions and radios, rocking chairs and pets.

M.Delorey_headshotMost people adjust to the inconveniences of living in such close proximity. There are a few, however, that take matters into their own hands and start banging on ceilings or walls, exacerbating the noise problem. Surprisingly, I’ve found that this behavior rarely makes their neighbor feel like they should be part of the solution.

Usually, management only hears about noise issues when the relationship between neighbors has deteriorated into something resembling paranoia. Often, people are convinced the neighbor is deliberately trying to anger them.

Complicating the situation, housing managers try to help the neighbors decide what is “reasonable” for each time of the day. Many leases reference “quiet hours” which are typical sleeping hours during which people are expected to be particularly mindful of noise. Unfortunately, housing mangers aren’t the ones who live with the noise and rarely are able to witness or take immediate action to noise concerns at exactly the right time.

Fortunately, if the parties are willing to work together, there are some solutions. For instance, a good pair of headphones can help a person watch TV without bothering neighbors. The aggrieved neighbor can also record the levels of noise in the unit to help reality check the neighbor about how it sounds to them (be mindful that recording conversations may get you in hot water.). Having housing management staff meet in the units to try to determine what is causing the noise can also help. One time, we walked through an upstairs apartment trying to replicate the noises that were troublesome only to find that the banging was the closing of a particular drawer in an armoire. The upstairs neighbor offered to keep that drawer empty. Our success hinged on that neighbor’s active role.

Management may also be able to help — fixing door closures, cushioning cabinet doors with felt pads or screwing down squeaky floor boards may reduce the noise enough to make it tolerable for the downstairs neighbor and shift blame away from the upstairs neighbor. Sometimes, offering a transfer to a heavy footed, nocturnal or clumsy person to a different unit is a kinder solution for everyone involved.

It is important to note that disabilities can play a role for either the person who is making too much noise or the person who is too sensitive to noise. Every case is different and a sensitive housing manager needs to listen to both neighbors carefully.

Unfortunately, there is a time and place to involve the authorities and to document the case for further action. With any luck, and with the help of housing management, you can survive the noise, insanity and your second empty nest when it is over.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at