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When an adolescent commits suicide, society becomes outraged by the seemingly senseless end to a vital, productive life.

Yet, self-destruction isn't the domain of the young. Older adults successfully commit suicide three times as often as younger people.And, most often, society says little.

"There has been in the past a bias in our society that it's OK to be depressed when you are old," said Dr. James R. Slaughter, medical director of geriatric psychiatry at Wasatch Canyons Hospital. "That's very inappropriate. We feel that being depressed, anxious or having a memory loss at any age is a significant problem and should be evaluated."

That evaluation and extensive treatment are being conducted through the new Older Adult Treatment Program at Wasatch Canyons. The program is designed to help older adults cope with emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive problems such as memory disorder.

The new program generally treats patients over age 65. Upon admission, the older adult is initially evaluated in the outpatient clinic and then, if appropriate, admitted to the partial hospitalization program.

If hospitalization is necessary, the patient is referred to the inpatient setting.

Slaughter, medical director of the program, believes it offers new hope to a greatly under-served, over-stressed group.

Depression, the professional said, is probably the most common mental illness among older individuals who are faced with multiple losses - loss of jobs, social status, family and friends and good physical health.

Yet, this group is often most difficult to get into therapy. Slaughter said many fear that by undergoing psychiatric treatment, they'll be "committed" and never be able to return home.

"What they don't understand is that once they get into treatment, they can be fully functional again; treatment can enhance their ability to live at home," he said.

To reach those in need of help, program officials have issued a challenge to the families of older adults: "Treat your older loved ones to the best gift ever - a sense of well-being."

Slaughter said family members who notice symptoms of depression among older adults should contact a professional.

"Depression is a terrible thing if it goes unrecognized and untreated," he stressed. "It's estimated that as many as 15 percent of significantly depressed individuals will successfully commit suicide if they are not treated."

But, said Slaughter, "depression is treatable at any age."




Twelve symptoms that signal depression in older adults:

*Sleep disturbance.

*Appetite and weight loss.

*Loss of interest in people and usual pursuits.

*Helpless, hopeless or irritable feelings, sadness or guilt.

*Fatigue and decreased energy.

*Inability to concentrate.

*Slowed thinking and activity.

*Suicidal expression.

*Physical complaints, particularly cardiac, gastrointestimal and musculoskeletal, without apparent physical cause.

*Memory loss.

*Extended grief reaction (longer than six months).

*Feeling of wortlessness; guilt over being alive.