Over the years, my family and I have been the primary caregivers for several of our close relatives. Even today, my mother and father are residents at a senior care facility, and I have the opportunity to visit them often.
Every time I come off the elevator to the floor where my father lives, I am greeted by a small group of female residents, sitting comfortably on the sofa, arm chair, or in their wheelchair...and what a greeting it is! Smiles and waves, and each just waiting and hoping that someone will come over to hear his or her story. They LOVE seeing people, and it takes so little to really make a positive impact on their day. It could be as simple as spending five minutes listening...or telling one of them that her hair (which was obviously just styled) looks terrific...or complimenting someone's shoes. Even better, bringing a little treat or gift (making sure they can have what you offer, from a medical perspective) to remind them that they are special, and that someone cares. The littlest of interactions go a big way.
One woman, whom I'll call Emma (not her real name), sits in her wheelchair, and never once misses the opportunity to provide input on what I am wearing (most of the time it is very positive; when it isn't I have to ask myself if I should go home and change--her fashion sense is that good!). Emma and I have a special agreement--I'm the source of her bright red lipstick! Her face lights up when she sees that tiny tube coming her way! Such an easy way to make a difference!
They also love to hear about what it's like outside, since many of them don't have the opportunity to leave their residential care facility. Tell them it's devastatingly hot outside, and they may respond with, "Well, it's nice and cool in here!" Or, tell them it's frigid cold outside, and they are equally thrilled to tell you that their floor has great heat.
It all comes down to humanity--interactions with other human beings--based on respect, active listening, and--for those few short minutes--being "present."
It doesn't take much.