While many single 31-year-olds were out on the town with friends last Saturday night, Jonathan Cohen was at home tending to laundry and household finances after another full day of looking after his mum, writes Justin Cohen.
It’s now a familiar routine for the Edgware Adath Yisroel Synagogue member, who has been the primary carer for his 65-year-old mother Ruth Marks, who once worked for the Royal Festival Ballet Company since she was diagnosed with early onset dementia more than two years ago.
The challenges he faces as a young carer and increasing prevalence of the condition – a fact brought home to him by the recent Jewish News–Jewish Care dementia awareness campaign – has led to him working with the charity to establish Care4, a support group to bring together those caring for dementia sufferers aged under 70.
“I want to convey the message that you’re not alone. If I were able to match a single pair of individuals to enable them to learn from, socialise and help each other, then the group has been a success. No one should face dementia alone.”
The father of two – who also looks after his sons, aged seven and five, when they come to stay with the pair in Southgate every other weekend – added: “Carers are generally ignored in society. It is often easy to sympathise with the sufferer, but what of the person who cannot sleep for fear their dependents may wander off or cause harm to themselves, property or others?”
His experiences will be familiar to all too many in a community that has a larger proportion of pensioners than in the general population. “Over the past year, mum’s memory has deteriorated to the point that even leaving her alone while I shower could be an issue. At every minute, I ensure at least one watchful eye is on mum,” he said.
“You feel it should be easy to care for a person who has given you everything since before you were born, but mum can’t express herself living with dementia.”
Launched last Sunday, the support group’s name is inspired by Jonathan’s wish to link up at least one young carer and the person they care for with another pair to create a group of four to assist each other. Care4Cafe will meet on the first Sunday of every month in Golders Green but other initiatives, including Care4art, are planned.
While saying he has support from professional carers and friends and family in providing meals and taking his mother on trips, Jonathan hopes the group will help address the feelings of isolation that can be felt by him and others in his position.
Aside from everyday challenges, the recent death of his grandmother, also a dementia sufferer, was particularly tough.
“I helped mum say goodbye to her mum, while my siblings and I are trying to retain what’s left of our own mother,” he explains.
Padraic Garrett, Jewish Care’s disability and dementia service manager, said: “Caring for a family member with dementia is extremely difficult. It is all-encompassing and carers often tell us they feel isolated and lonely. Support groups can be a lifeline to carers and we are delighted Jonathan contacted us to suggest setting up a support group.”
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