It’s worse for you than obesity and is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is becoming an increasing problem in the West, especially among the elderly. In the Netherlands, though, an innovative scheme is experimenting with a solution.

The Humanitas care home in Deventer, central Holland, is conducting an experiment where students are living together with senior citizens. This co-living situation is part of a scheme which started in 2012 and provides students with free houses in exchange for 30 hours per month of their time living as a “good neighbor”. Only one activity is mandatory: preparing and serving a meal on weekday evenings. Both parties appear to benefit from the program.

Apart from saving a significant amount of money on housing, the students claim they have learned to be more patient as a result of the experience; the pace of life is slower at the home. While for the elderly, the presence of young people in the home seems to have helped them stave off loneliness.

As social isolation is becoming a more common problem across the rich world, creating more of these co-living spaces might just be the solution.