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Heal Early, Heal Often

Marilyn Rantz Keeps Elders Healthy

Although Marilyn Rantz has been a gerontological researcher for decades, she relates to elders as a nurse as well. Above, she talks with resident Louis Lohman, BS Ag ’47, at TigerPlace in southeast Columbia.

Researcher Marilyn Rantz has set out to counter the too-common idea and experience of aging as an inevitable decline into frailty and dependency. Her mission in life is to replace that defeatist outlook by developing and testing new ways of caring for elderly people so they can remain as independent as possible for as long as possible.

It’s easy to see how much Rantz likes older people, how much she wants to help them live well. The Curators Professor of Nursing and Helen E. Nahm Chair possesses a remarkable healing touch. She lays hands on elderly people as a caring professional who has worked as a floor nurse, a nursing home director and a gerontological researcher. She is an experienced clinician who sometimes observes problems so early on that the patients themselves are unaware. Some cues — perhaps a nuance of errant gait — are so subtle that she registers them as intuitions.

On another level, her healing touch reaches throughout her acclaimed research career. “She’s not about delaying dying at all costs,” says Vicki Conn, MA ’81, MA ’83, PhD ’87, professor of nursing and longtime member of Rantz’s research team. “She works out ways of helping elders live with a high quality of life, which is in great part about maintaining function.”

Marilyn Rantz

Marilyn Rantz, holding a photo of her late parents Alice and George Fresen, draws inspiration for her work from relationships with elders.

During fall 2012, Rantz logged two remarkable achievements, either of which would have put her in the nursing history books. On Oct. 15, 2012, she was elected to the Institute of Medicine, an elite cadre of researchers whose authoritative work informs the U.S. government as it makes policy. On Nov. 5, 2012, she received a $14.8 million research grant, the largest ever at MU, to improve nursing home care.

Rantz has won more than $50 million in research funding for a range of projects: She has tamed huge medical databases and put their valuable contents into the hands of front-line caregivers nationwide. She has worked out ways that nurses can monitor elders and coordinate their care to catch problems early, keep them at home and decrease health care costs. And she has collaborated with engineers to create remote-sensing technology that automates and extends her healer’s ability to detect nascent health problems.

Marilyn Rantz is not just someone who has made a few good findings,” says Angela McBride, former dean of nursing at Indiana University and a national expert in leadership development. She believes Rantz’s ideas are ready for widespread use. People toss around the term “cutting edge” in casual conversation, McBride says. “But Marilyn Rantz’s work really is cutting edge.”

Read the rest of the article at the Mizzou Magazine >>