For skilled nursing and senior living residents, loneliness typically is a pressing concern, worsened by living away from loved ones or by dementia. Technology can be a powerful tool to combat this issue, as two high school inventors have shown by creating a new virtual friend to keep older adults company and loneliness at bay.

Rishi Ambavanekar and Rohan Kulkarni, high school juniors from Vista Del Lago High School in Folsom, CA, developed Geri, an app using ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence, to provide lonely individuals with companionship. Geri is designed specifically for people living with Alzheimer’s disease or social isolation.

The app works by using ChatGPT’s AI capabilities to converse with users. It employs data to predict what users want to talk about and responds to their questions.

Retiree Beverly Johnson, who lives alone and lost her husband to multiple sclerosis, is one of the beta testers for the app. She has conversations with the smartphone app on a regular basis (for example, asking Geri what she should make for dinner based on what’s in her refrigerator) and sends Ambavanekar and Kulkarni feedback. For example, she points out when Geri makes mistakes in responses to her, enabling the inventors to go back and tweak the app.

“I am kind of really having fun with this because she makes me laugh and even if it is a mistake, it makes me chuckle because I am talking to a computer,” Johnson told local news station ABC10.

The app is ideal for people living in isolation and people with Alzheimer’s, Kulkarni said. Its creation was inspired by Ambavanekar’s late grandfather, who was hospitalized with leukemia and was allowed limited visitors during his hospital stay.

Geri isn’t the first invention for either of the students: Last year, Ambavanekar was featured on Good Morning America for inventing a device that helps stroke victims communicate. Kulkarni has several other inventions in the works.

The students currently are seeking funding for the app to make it available for more users when beta testing is complete.

Earlier this month, the US Surgeon General announced a national effort to combat the loneliness epidemic in America. Researchers have shown that loneliness often leads to depression and shorter life spans for older adults.