Meet Helen Henglein: Speak2’s New Occupational Therapy Product Advisor

Helen Henglein and Speak2 Family 

We are very excited to welcome Helen Henglein, MOT, OTR/L, to Speak2 Family! Helen is currently an Occupational Therapist in New York City and will be bringing her knowledge and expertise in the industry to Speak2. Occupational Therapy plays a significant role in ensuring that the Speak2 technology used through Amazon’s Alexa can increase the quality of life for older adults. With her experience as an occupational therapist treating the geriatric population, she will make a great addition to the team as Speak2’s Product Advisor. 

Learn more about Helen, occupational therapy, and what she enjoys the most about being an OT in our recent interview with her.  

The Interview


Meet Helen Henglein

What are your favorite hobbies or interests? Any new hobbies you may have picked up during quarantine? 

Yes! I have been doing one crossword puzzle every day on an app. I was always terrible at them and have gotten much better in the past year! I have a few new hobbies, but most of my time has been spent doing a deeper dive into the hobbies I already have and activities I enjoy. For me, this means much longer walks on the boardwalk by my house, mastering new recipes (shout out to @halfbakedharvest and @NYTcooking), and a few 1000 piece puzzles. I also started my own plant collection with about 15 plants. I would have way more plants if I had better lighting in my basement apartment.  Most of them started as cuttings or propagations from other people’s plants, so it’s been really cool to be more hands-on with them and watch them grow over the past year. 

Besides being a plant lady, I’m also a really big nerd. I’ve recently learned more about Kinesio taping application and cupping therapy to use with my outpatient clinic patients.  I’m always looking for new tools to add to my toolbox.  

What are your favorite genres of music you’ve been loving lately? Which artists or groups would you first recommend to anyone asking for music recommendations? 

My all-time favorite band is Mt. Joy. They’re a folk-rock band who can’t make a bad song. I usually describe them as more energized Lumineers. In terms of genres, I can listen to anything, but it mostly depends on my mood and the energy I want to create for the people I’m with. I love queuing up some country love songs when I’m cooking dinner with my boyfriend, and then some dance-pop mixed with 80’s classic hits for a night out with friends. I’ve been making a playlist called “Geriatric Jams” filled with my patients’ favorite music and their wedding songs. It’s really beautiful, and I found songs I would have never heard before. Then when I play this during my treatment sessions, my patients light up when they hear music they haven’t heard in years. It’s beautiful to see. 

Do you have a role model or inspiration who inspires you? 

To be honest, no one comes to mind off the bat. I’ve never been drawn to following celebrities or Hollywood culture. I’ve never understood all the hype about them. I have a handful of “influencers” who inspire me because of their health and wellness lifestyles and dedication to sharing knowledge, helping others, and embodying a healthy lifestyle. Some of my favorites are Max Lugavere, author of Genius Foods; Kelly LeVeque, founder of @bewellbykelly; Vani Hari, author of Feeding you Lies; Luke Storey, founder of The Life Stylist Podcast

But I will say that my patients inspire me every day. I’ve met some truly incredible human beings over the past few years, as I always ask patients to share wisdom and stories about their lives. Everyone has had hardships, and bad things happen to them. Meeting people in their older years, I can see who let the past break them or change them for the better. I’ve heard war stories from Holocaust survivors and WWII vets, I’ve met people who started businesses that changed America, mothers who raised 7 children, survivors of abuse, people who fell in love at 15 and stayed together till this day, people who immigrated here at a very young age without their parents, and more. These are the stories that inspire me and make me want to be a better, brighter person. 

How do you use technology and, more specifically, Alexa?

I love using Alexa to make life easier. I use her for my morning alarm, checking on package deliveries, timers when cooking and working out, getting my news briefing, and the word of the day.  Every day I ask her about the weather to help me decide how to dress and if I should warm up my car or not. My boyfriend has a really crazy work schedule, so if I think he overslept for work and I’m not home, I’ll send a message through Alexa or play some music to wake him up. I’m also a big fan of daily jeopardy and music trivia. 

Helen Henglein and Occupational Therapy 

If you were introducing your career to someone who had no idea what occupational therapy was, how would you describe it? 

I say this all the time, but I wish I could rename this profession to “functional therapy.” The word “occupation” isn’t in our vocabulary like it was 100 years ago. In the simplest of terms, I say I help people be more functional and independent. If someone comes to me with a shoulder pain or injury, I don’t just look at the shoulder. I’m more focused on what you can’t do in your normal life because of the shoulder pain or injury. We look beyond physical disruptions to see how the whole person has been affected. 

What is occupational therapy, and how is it different from other health industry sectors?

Occupational therapy is the profession of rehabilitation that addresses your independence and function. Occupational therapy is both a medical science and a social science. We study gross anatomy, kinesiology, and cognition, in a biopsychosocial model of practice. This means OT is also specialized in human anatomy, neurology, physiology, cognition, executive function, psychosocial principles, and human development. OTs use activity analysis to break down the activity into the smallest components, then apply our knowledge of your diagnosis and the psychological aspects of healing to address the whole person. When healing and restoration are not possible, we use compensatory and adaptive approaches to guide the patients into new movement patterns with or without tools to successfully complete the tasks they want or need to do independently. 

When did you know you wanted to go into occupational therapy? What sparked your interest?

I always felt called to work in a helping profession and I knew I wanted to work with people. I was always really interested in science at school and felt like the medical field was a great fit for me. Then I learned how long it took to become a doctor, so I decided that wasn’t for me, and I didn’t like nursing because I felt like they were always assisting the doctor, and I wanted to be the one making the decisions (I realize now this is far from true and nurses ROCK.) 

My grandma had a knee replacement when I was in high school and did a lot of therapy for her recovery. This really increased my exposure to the profession. My brother had OT and PT as a kid, but I didn’t know this profession could work with people across the lifespan. I started researching more about rehab professionals, and I knew this was the perfect fit. I really wanted a medical-based profession that would allow me to work hands-on with my patients for long bouts of time. Ultimately, I chose occupational therapy over physical or speech therapy because it was the profession that required competencies in medical, psychological, and social sciences. 

What motivated you to work hard? Has this changed over the years?

I’ve always been an overachiever when it comes to work and school. I graduated from my OT program in 4.5 years (a year early.) I’ve reached the level of senior OT at my current job and had the same status at my last job. I’m always motivated by my love of learning and knowledge, but I also have this internal drive to be efficient at work. Not just for the work that I do, but for the whole team. I now mentor and assist new therapists at the home health company I work for. I lead orientation and training sessions focused on quality of care, effective evaluations and treatments, and providing resources for the patients. I am happy to know I’m setting the bar high for new therapists by emphasizing our core values.

What is your favorite part about your career? Has this always been your favorite part since Day 1 or has it changed over the years? 

Seeing patients progress! There’s nothing better than watching your patient improve week after week. I keep my goals really client-centered and am always referring back to them during treatment sessions. This way, when a patient finally reaches a goal, we can both celebrate, and they’re just as happy as I am! In some ways, this has and hasn’t changed. When I used to work in a skilled nursing facility, the goals for the patient were very generic because the patients were so medically complex and far away from their prior level of living. A lot of the goals addressed simple functions and activities such as working on sitting balance, getting yourself out of bed, standing tolerance, washing your face and hands, brushing your teeth, dressing, and bathing. 

Now in home health and outpatient, most of the patients are able to do those basic activities by themselves, so we can work on more difficult and meaningful activities such as cooking, taking care of pets, health management, fall prevention, and cosmetic hygiene and grooming. This past week I had one patient tell me she was able to get back to riding her bike after being in an accident a few months ago. Another patient with a broken elbow was finally able to put her hair up in a ponytail! She was beyond ecstatic about this and it’s something I think most of us take for granted every day.

What are three core values vital to you as a person?

These are the three mantras I live by: question everything;  don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today (especially if it takes less than 5 minutes); and finally, attached to nothing, connected to everything. 

What core values are important to you as an occupational therapist or someone working in the healthcare industry? 

Quality of care. I’ve seen a lot of bad therapists in this industry who are only in it for the money or get lazy and won’t do more than the cookie-cutter treatment. This is what we call a very basic treatment session that’s not targeting specific goals and is a bunch of easy exercises that anyone can do. I think it’s imperative for all therapists always to remember how important their role is and how powerful an impact we have on our patients. Every treatment session is a chance to help your clients become more independent and improve their quality of life. If you’re not sure how to help someone – talk to your peers, read a journal article, read a rehab blog, take a course, anything that will help you add tools to your toolbox. 

Next, patient-centered care. The patient should always be the focus of care and included in treatment planning. It seems silly to think it wouldn’t be that way. I’ve seen doctors say they won’t operate on someone solely because they’re “too old,” without really getting to know the patient. They don’t know that this “too old” person is 85, still drives, has no cognitive deficits, takes care of his wife, and lives completely independently, but won’t perform surgery to improve their quality of life because they’re “too old.” As a medical professional it’s easy to think that we always know what’s best for the patient, but we really need to take the time to talk to our patients about their goals so they can be included in the treatment plan. Patients are people, not their disability or diagnosis. Their opinion about how they are cared for and what kind of care they receive should not be discredited because of their age. 

More On Occupational Therapy and Speak2

Speak2 is looking forward to all the essential insight Helen Henglein will bring in making Speak2 the best technology for families and occupational therapists caring for aging seniors. Look out for future blogs featuring Helen and her experiences as an occupational therapist. 

To learn more about Speak2 and how technology can help care for your elderly loved ones, click here!

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