Simplicity is Often Best: Engaging Elders with Dementia

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Simplicity is Often Best: Engaging Elders with Dementia

Simple is Often Best

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to the materials we use for engaging elders. Most of us eagerly welcome new ideas for roles and activities. I’ve been known to come up with some pretty elaborate concepts to try and shake things up, but I have learned that keeping it simple usually works best.

One of my favorite materials are Three-Part Cards (also known as Nomenclature Cards). These cards can be used to help elders maintain and improve language skills such as reading and naming. In addition, the materials can address sequencing, attention to task, fine and gross motor skills, turn taking, conversation and reminiscence. I like the variety of topics that can be covered with this material. For example, a gardener can use cards with flower illustrations, a sailor can work with boat parts, a chef can interact with cards that identify items in the kitchen. The topics are endless, and the activity is person-centered!

Often the Three-Part Cards made for Montessori classrooms are too small for older adults to manipulate and read, or are covered in shiny lamination that causes glare. Lucky for us, Montessori Images makes a line of Three-Part Cards that have been especially designed and tested with older adults and people with dementia. They also make beautiful box in which to store the cards.

So, give it a try! Here is how to use Three-Part Cards:


  • Maintain language and reading skills
  • Exercise motor control
  • Preserve pincer grasp
  • Maintain focused attention
  • Participate in an activity on a topic of interest


  • 3-part wooden tray
  • 3-part nomenclature cards
  • Placemat that contrasts from the table and the cards

Participating in the Activity

  • Carry the tray to the table.
  • Remove the control cards (with pictures and words), and line them up along the left side of the placemat.
  • Pick a picture card (no label) and compare it to each control card. When you find the matching control card, place them side by side.
  • Continue until all the pictures have been matched.
  • Pick a label (words) and compare it to each control card.
  • When you find the matching control card, place them side by side.
  • Continue until all the labels have been matched.
  • Return all of the cards to the container.
  • Return the materials to the shelf.


  • Use only three cards (simpler)
  • Begin with picture cards (more difficult)
  • Remove labels, match pictures only
  • Match objects on picture cards

Extensions (With vegetable cards, for example):

  • Reminisce about gardening
  • Read a book about growing a garden
  • Plant vegetable seeds
  • Make a salad together
By | 2020-03-30T15:59:58+00:00 March 30th, 2020|dementia, Montessori|0 Comments

About the Author:

Jennifer Brush
Jennifer Brush, MA, CCC/SLP is an award-winning Dementia Educator, author and consultant. Passionate about enriching the lives of people with dementia, Jennifer is on a mission to put the focus of care on the person’s preferences, interests and abilities. With her nearly three decades of industry experience, including leading countless live national and international trainings, facilitating ground-breaking research, and managing innovative person-centered projects for the Ohio Council for Cognitive Health, Jennifer flawlessly bridges the gap between care communities and the individuals they serve. Jennifer serves on the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) Advisory Board for Montessori for Aging and Dementia and she is the only AMI Certified Trainer of Trainers for Montessori for Aging and Dementia in the US. She is also adjunct faculty at St. Nicholas Montessori College in Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Jennifer is the author of several nationally recognized books on dementia including the silver-medal winning Creative Connections in Dementia Care and I Care, the gold-medal winning work that also received a 5-star rating as a Reader Favorite. Jennifer is widely known for her innovative work in the Spaced Retrieval memory intervention, pioneering this area of study in speech-language pathology and publishing 2 books on the subject. Look for Jennifer’s new co-authored book about Person-Centered Care, to be published by Wiley in 2020.
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