Ms. Demeanor's Vertical Etiquette

Dear Ms. Demeanor: My elderly neighbor knocks on my door in the middle of the night and seems confused. What do I do?

An elderly neighbor who seems confused may have trouble taking care of herself. Alert staff or management, and have them contact her family. 

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Question:

There is an elderly woman in my building who sometimes knocks on my door in the middle of the night a couple times a week asking for someone named 'Billy.' She seems very lonely and may have early dementia, so I always walk her back to her apartment, which is on another floor. But after several months, it’s starting to impact my sleep and I am worried about her safety. What should I do? Signed, Sleepless in Sheepshead

Answer:

Dear Sleepless,

This is indeed a problem. While I commend you for wanting to help, I think this has to be handled by the staff or management company of your building. If there are cameras on each floor, as there are in my building, a doorman can see when she leaves her apartment and try to intervene, because she could fall and hurt herself roaming around at night. And, her family needs to be contacted and told about the situation. A social worker may need to get involved.

You say she may be lonely, which certainly could be the case. Maybe you could follow up and check on her. You could visit her once in a while but tell her that she can’t disturb you in the middle of the night. 

Living in an apartment building in New York City can make us hidden to those around us. It’s just not the same as living on a block of houses where people see you mowing your lawn or shoveling your driveway and know you're doing fine. When I first moved into the city, I kept introducing myself whenever I saw a new face in the elevator. I stopped doing that when I realized my neighbors might think I was a potential serial killer. But I did it because I had lived in a house in the suburbs for 20 years and knew everyone around for blocks and blocks. Now, I have lived in my current building for over 20 years and probably know only about a third of the people. And that is probably because I am on the board.

So, you need your uninterrupted sleep and your neighbor needs help from a friend or family member. Thanks for making an effort to make living in NYC a little less anonymous.

Ms. Demeanor


Dianne Ackerman is the new voice of reason behind Ms. Demeanor. She has lived in her Upper East Side co-op for the past 20 years and is the vice president of her co-op board. She is filled with opinions that she gladly shares with all who ask—and some who do not. Have something that needs sorting out? Drop her an email.