2013-05-30 / News

Islander creates app to help seniors stay in home longer

Home becomes more of a hazard as occupants age
BY KEN SHANE


GREG DIGASPER GREG DIGASPER The population is aging as baby boomers reach retirement. No one is getting any younger, but we are living longer.

That is the thought behind Jamestown resident Greg DiGas­per’s company Dwell At Ease. The 5-year-old company has recently transitioned to a web-based ap­proach with an application that they hope will be useful for senior citizens and their families.

DiGasper attended Northeastern University and the City Univer­sity of New York. He moved to Jamestown in 2001 and lives here with his wife and three children. In 1993 he began a career in the medical-devices industry when he joined a small startup company in Boston.

DiGasper worked in marketing for the company for several years until it was bought by Johnson & Johnson. He then transitioned to a sales role and has been doing that ever since. In what he calls his “day job,” he works for a division of Johnson & Johnson selling cra­niofacial implants, which are tita­nium plates and screws for facial reconstruction.

The idea for his other job came to fruition five years ago when DiGasper was talking about work and family with one of his friends. His buddy said he wished there was a company that would inspect his parents’ house and tell them what was unsafe about it. The par­ents were in their 70s.

“He was worried about their agility and ability to get around the house,” DiGasper said. “He said that they wouldn’t listen to him, but if a professional came into their house, they would listen.”

Based on the discussion, DiGas­per got the idea for a new business. With baby boomers coming up on retirement, he knew there would be a massive market to serve. The trend was toward people wanting to stay in their homes indefinitely.

“Addressing that need, making a house safe, accessible and con­venient to live in as your abilities change,” he said, “is a huge need.”

According to DiGasper, a small percentage of people recognize the hazards in their homes. He said even less people know how to make their homes more convenient as they get older. As an example, DiGasper said people with arthri­tis might want to install levered handles on a door because they’re easier to manipulate than a tradi­tional doorknob.

DiGasper enrolled in a program sponsored by the National Associ­ation of Homebuilders and became a certified aging-in-place special­ist. The program is endorsed by the AARP and the National Coali­tion on Aging.

“They teach you how to work with baby boomers and how to modify their homes to address their needs,” DiGasper said.

The program taught him what to look for in homes that might be obstacles to accessibility such as thresholds, steps or doorway width. The program also showed participants what it was like to walk in the shoes of a senior citi­zen. They were dressed up a suit that restricted movement, wore goggles smeared with Vaseline to mimic cataracts, and had lead weights placed in their clothes so it was difficult to move limbs.

“They really make you feel like the elder so that you can under­stand what they’re going through,” he said. “You can have empathy for people and realize the hard­ships that they go through.”

DiGasper called his company Dwell At Ease and it began as a door-to-door program. Along with family and friends, DiGasper pro­moted his business through word of mouth. He would physically inspect a home and make recom­mendations based on his findings. It wasn’t long before he realized there was a greater need for the service than he could handle per­sonally. He decided the business needed to grow outside of James­town.

DiGasper decided that he need­ed to reach people nationally – these days that is often done via the Internet. That is how Dwell­Check was born. DwellCheck is a computer app built to empower homeowners to do the inspection themselves. The app provides homeowners with the tools they need to assess the safety of their homes. The program is in the form of a checklist. Once the inspection is complete, a report is compiled based on the input. It identifies hazards and tells the homeowner what needs to be done to modify their home so they can keep living there.

“People want the information, but they want to gather that in­formation themselves,” DiGasper said. “This generation is well ed­ucated and does a lot of research before they make a purchase. We wanted to provide the tools for the homeowner to gather their own information and make their own decisions.”

The service doesn’t stop there, however. Right now DiGasper’s company is in the process of add­ing an online directory to its web­site with information on qualified service providers that can do the work that is called for in the re­port. The information is already available to the public through the National Association of Home­builders but it will be replicated in a more user-friendly format on the DwellCheck website. The website will also have a directory of businesses that supply needed materials, as well as do-it-yourself instructions for homeowners who want to work with their hands.

DiGasper is currently seeking additional funding for his compa­ny. DwellCheck is presently being beta tested and will be available to the public in the near future. An advance look at the app can be found at web.dwellcheck.com.

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