Institute of Medicine inductee promotes innovations in senior care

Marilyn Rantz, a professor of nursing and recent inductee into the Institute of Medicine, promotes innovations in care for seniors.

After her husband pointed out a nursing home job in the classifieds, Marilyn Rantz said she knew she wanted to serve seniors for the rest of her career.

Rantz has been a nurse for more than 40 years, has worked with older adults for 30 years and currently is a professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing. Through projects like Age In Place and TigerPlace, a type of senior housing that replaces the common nursing home, Rantz has offered an alternative to the way senior citizens age.

“Marilyn Rantz has been a virtual ‘force’ in terms of improving care and quality outcomes for older adults,” School of Nursing dean Judith Fitzgerald said in a news release.

Rantz was recently inducted into the Institute of Medicine, a national honor society and advisory board.

“I’ve gotten a lot of experience working with older adults in the community as well as in long term care settings,” Rantz said. “I hope to represent their concerns for being independent for as long as possible and see that their health care concerns are addressed nationally.”

Rantz said she is also interested in expanding the use of technology to improve chronic issue management and independent living.

With the involvement of engineers at MU, Rantz said School of Nursing was hoping to develop new solutions to some of the old problems Rantz had seen among older people for years.

A main technology Rantz researched and developed is environmentally embedded sensors.

“At TigerPlace, we developed a network of motion sensors in the environment that are nonintrusive and that can monitor the activities of a person,” Rantz said.

These sensors come in several different forms. A sensor can be placed underneath a mattress and monitor heart rate, respiration and bed restlessness.

“Bed restlessness and the way we sleep tells a lot about our health,” Rantz said.

Rantz and her colleagues have transformed the Xbox Kinect, a game system peripheral normally used to play motion-based video games, into a potentially life-saving device. The Kinect monitors a shadow image of the gait of an individual and predicts health-threatening falls.

“Falls are one of the major causes of death and disability in older people,” Rantz said. “If we can measure an increasing risk of falls, we can help people stay healthier by intervening and helping them gain lower extremity strength and balance and help them avoid a fall.”

These systems send email alerts to a care coordinator, social worker and the research team after detection of changes in heart rate, respiration or gait, Rantz said. These health care professionals can then click and see images of the warning signs the automated system identified. Alerts usually come 10 days to two weeks ahead of a health problem, Rantz said.

“So this gives clinicians a heads up that something could be brewing, so they could take a closer look and hopefully find that problem earlier than when that person would have typically complained about it,” she said.

Rantz said the purpose of the technology is to help early illness recognition and detection so problems can be managed with some assistance from primary care physicians, seniors can avoid repeat hospitalizations and avoid reliance on nursing home services.

“Most seniors say they don’t give a damn about being safe, they want to be independent,” Rantz said. “I’m hopeful that we can bring voice to those concerns and those important issues.”

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