Exoskeletons have a problem: They can strain the brain + City funded housing repairs

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Exoskeletons have a problem: They can strain the brain

RELEASE: Exoskeletons - wearable devices used by workers on assembly lines or in warehouses to alleviate stress on their lower backs - may compete with valuable resources in the brain while people work, canceling out the physical benefits of wearing them, a new study suggests.

The study, published recently in the journal Applied Ergonomics, found that when people wore exoskeletons while performing tasks that required them to think about their actions, their brains worked overtime and their bodies competed with the exoskeletons rather than working in harmony with them. The study indicates that exoskeletons may place enough burden on the brain that potential benefits to the body are negated.

"It's almost like dancing with a really bad partner," said William Marras, senior author of the study, professor of integrated systems engineering and director of The Ohio State University Spine Research Institute.

"The exoskeleton is trying to anticipate your moves, but it's not going well, so you fight with the exoskeleton, and that causes this change in your brain which changes the muscle recruitment - and could cause higher forces on your lower back, potentially leading to pain and possible injuries."

For the study, researchers asked 12 people - six men and six women - to repeatedly lift a medicine ball in two 30-minutes sessions. For one of the sessions, the participants wore an exoskeleton. For the other, they did not.

The exoskeleton, which is attached to the user's chest and legs, is designed to help control posture and motion during lifting to protect the lower back and reduce the possibility of injury.

The researchers used infrared sensors to evaluate the participants' brain activity and measured the force on each participant's lower back during each session. They also tracked the number of times each participant was able to lift the medicine ball in each session.

Then, in separate sessions, they asked those same participants to perform that same task - lifting a medicine ball for 30 minutes, in one session wearing an exoskeleton - but added a mental task: They had the participants subtract 13 from a random number between 500 and 1,000 each time they lifted the ball.

They found that when the participants were simply lifting and lowering the ball, the exoskeleton slightly reduced the load on the participants' lower backs. But when the participants had to do math in their heads while lifting and lowering the ball, those benefits disappeared.

Although exoskeleton users on an assembly line may not have to do math in their heads, any kind of mental strain such as psychological stress or instructions they must follow could have the same effect, Marras said.

"When we looked at what was happening in the brain, there was more competition for those resources in the brain," Marras said. "The person was doing that mental math, but the brain was also trying to figure out how to help the body interact with the exoskeleton, and that confused the way the brain recruited the muscles to perform the task."

When those muscles compete with one another, the brain worked less efficiently and forces on the back increased, the researchers found.

"If you are a business spending hundreds or thousands of dollars per exoskeleton, there is a very good chance that the exoskeleton isn't doing any good for your employees," Marras said. "All exoskeletons aren't bad, but people are messy, and everyone is different: You've got to use exoskeletons with some intelligence and some understanding of what the job entails."

City-funded housing repairs in low-income neighborhoods associated with drop in crime

RELEASE: Investing in structural home repairs in historically segregated, low-income, Black and Latino neighborhoods has been associated with reduced crime rates. In Philadelphia, when a home received repairs through a city-funded program, total crime dropped by 21.9% on that block, and as the number of repaired houses on a block increased, instances of crime fell even further, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania published today in JAMA Network Open.

In an effort to address an old housing stock and high levels of historical disinvestment in Philadelphia, the city implemented the Basic Systems Repair Program (BSRP) in 1995, which repairs structural damages to the homes of low-income owners, such as replacing an exterior wall to stop leaking, or electrical repairs that include replacing circuits that overheat, spark, or won’t stay on, causing inconsistent heating and unreliable electricity. The majority of BSRP homes are in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Researchers hypothesized that over time these micro-investments would have an impact on community health, including crime.

Using BSRP data from 2006 through 2013, researchers determined that 13,632 houses on 6,732 blocks in Philadelphia received BSRP repairs. They then merged crime data – which included instances of homicide, assault, burglary, theft, robbery, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness – from the Philadelphia Police Department with BSRP data to create a database that allowed them to understand the impact of BSRP investment on crime in every block across the city over time. This data revealed lower instances of all crime, including homicide, on blocks with a single BSRP-repaired home compared to blocks that were eligible for a BSRP-repaired home but did not get the intervention. With each additional repaired home, instances of crime on that block declined further.

“We can now add structural home repairs to the growing list of place-based neighborhood interventions with strong evidence that they can help reduce violent crime,” said lead author Eugenia South, MD, MSHP, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and Faculty Director of the Penn Urban Health Lab. “Violent crime is out of control in many cities across the country right now and policy makers should prioritize funding for structural, scalable, and sustainable interventions such as the BSRP that address the lasting scars of historical disinvestment in Black neighborhoods.”

The root causes of violent crime in Black urban neighborhoods are structural, including historical racial segregation, concentrated poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and deterioration of the neighborhood’s physical conditions – houses in disrepair, blighted vacant lots, and a lack of greenspace. What’s more, the health implications of violence exposure are vast and include increased depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and cardiovascular disease.

“There is a critical need to invest in the housing stock in cities across the U.S, particularly in majority Black neighborhood that have not received such investment for far too long, if ever,” said senior author Vincent Raina PhD, an Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Economics and the Faculty Director of the Housing Initiative at Penn. “This research shows that even small investments in housing stabilization benefit both those homeowners who live in homes that receive support and the blocks and neighborhoods in which they live through crime reduction.”

The research teams says that programs like BSRP are small relative to housing needs, and are not the sole solution to addressing years of systemic racial discrimination in public and private investments and lending in housing, but they are emblematic of the positive impact that a more robust and comprehensive public and private response to systemic racial inequities in housing and neighborhood investments can have.

“Stable housing is important for creating and maintaining safe and functioning neighborhoods,” says David Thomas, CEO of Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC). “For over 40 years BSRP has helped individuals and families relieve what can be overwhelming financial and mental pressure that occurs when you need necessary housing repairs but lack resources. The program has also helped reduce homelessness by keeping persons in their homes, preserve blocks and communities, and reduce blight.”

“Just as there is no one cause of crime there is no one solution,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Investing in our neighborhoods, as we do with PHDC’s BSRP program, strengthens those neighborhoods and, as we see in this study, reduces crime. Our challenge is to continue to find new approaches and resources to supporting community investment for programs like BSRP that stabilize communities.”

John MacDonald, PhD, Professor of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania was also an author on the study. The study was supported by the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.
Syne Offline
(Jul 21, 2021 11:29 PM)C C Wrote: This data revealed lower instances of all crime, including homicide, on blocks with a single BSRP-repaired home compared to blocks that were eligible for a BSRP-repaired home but did not get the intervention. With each additional repaired home, instances of crime on that block declined further.

Sounds like a spurious correlation.

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