SYCAMORE – Beverly Patton, 74, has not been able to see her family in person for 20 weeks, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, two or three times a week, Patton's 17-year-old grandson Drew Balster of St. Charles serenades her with music on his keyboard and guitar outside of her window at Lincolnshire Place, a memory care facility in Sycamore. Patton gave Balster the guitar he uses a few years ago as a birthday present.
He performs a variety of music, but makes sure to include songs from her favorite artist, Billy Joel. He also performs classical music and songs by Elton John, Journey and The Beatles.
"Music is a universal language and music therapy relieves stress," Balster said. "I think coming during the pandemic, playing music and sharing stories has made us closer now than ever before. I get to connect with her."
Patton, who has early onset dementia, has resided at Lincolnshire Place for more than six years, and is the longest-residing resident there. During the pandemic, in April, Patton suffered a stroke, which caused paralysis to her left side.
"It's been really difficult because we couldn't go in and help her," said Patton's daughter, Jenny Franzene of DeKalb. "But Lincolnshire is a wonderful place. They treat her like family. It helps knowing you trust the people caring for your loved ones."
Tina Thompson, the community director of Lincolnshire Place, said that keeping residents and family members apart is difficult but the best option for health and safety during the pandemic.
"Many of our residents don't understand why they haven't been able to see their families, and it has been a struggle for them," Thompson said. "It's hard to explain to them what's happening. For our residents, who deal with memory loss, it's somewhat of a blessing they don't know how much time has passed since they last saw their loved ones. However, it's been very difficult for the families. Families have found ways to connect, whether it's through letters, cards, video chats or music outdoors."
Families have been able to see each other outdoors, but everyone is required to stay 6 feet away and wear a mask. Physical contact, including hugs and kisses, are not allowed.
Patton's son, Steve Balster, said that his mom looks forward to their musical window visits. Patton has always loved music and played the piano and French horn. She often attended the DeKalb Municipal Band concerts in Hopkins Park.
"[The visits are] a great way to see her in person and put a smile on her face," he said. "It makes her happy and really brightens her day. You can tell she loves the music and spending time with us."
Thompson said that staff has seen "a little spark" in Patton after her family visits.
"There's a positive reaction: she eats a bit more, uses her [stroke-impaired] hand more and she's happier," Thompson said.
Musicians age 16 and older can schedule to perform a small outdoor concert in Lincolnshire Place's courtyard. Recorded music performances can also be played for residents.
"It's so important to keep in touch with our residents," Thompson said. "Decline can happen so quickly. A couple of weeks can make a big difference. A card, letter, photo or note lets our residents know that their loved ones are thinking of them during the pandemic."