The Gatekeeper Program, a nationwide agreement between service agencies for the elderly and utility companies, is helping older Utahns who need assistance and don't know how to arrange for it.

Consider the case of an elderly Salt Lake woman who needs medical attention and no longer is able to care for her home or pets adequately. Her telephone had been disconnected, her plumbing didn't work properly, and she was being swindled by a man, posing as a friend, who repeatedly convinced her to sign withdrawal slips for her bank account without realizing what she was doing.At best, a grim scenario.

Then Mountain Fuel collector Mark Tanner stepped in. For some time, Tanner had known about the deterioration of the woman's home. In fact, he had been assigned to call on her and one day was told to attempt to collect on her past-due account.

But that day he attended a Gatekeeper training program, where utility employees with frequent customer contact are trained to watch for signs that senior citizens may need help.

When these "gatekeepers" see danger signals - a change in a person's behavior or appearance, newspapers or mail piling up - they call Aging Services. That agency, in turn, alerts appropriate professionals who offer social and health services, such as medical and personal care, household-chore services, food and transportation.

When the Gatekeeper training session ended, Tanner went directly to his desk, found the collection report on the elderly woman and called Aging Services. The appropriate agencies were notified, and the woman received the necessary assistance.

The Gatekeeper Program helps utility employees as well as the elderly.

"Mountain Fuel employees have always been aware of our elderly customers and are concerned for their needs," said Steve Yeager, vice president of retail operations for Mountain Fuel. "Gatekeeper gives an avenue through which we can be of significant help to elderly customers in need."

Yeager urges everyone to become a gatekeeper. Danger signs to watch for include:

-Communication: confused, disoriented, forgetful, reminiscing, angry or hostile.

-Economic conditions: extreme confusion concerning money matters, expressed difficulty in paying bills or inability to afford transportation.

-Social conditions: older person living alone, or otherwise isolated from social contact; possible victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.

-Emotional health: excessive statements of rejection; not eating or sleeping well; recent loss of spouse, relative, friend or pet; appears extremely anxious, fidgety or withdrawn.

-Personal appearance: unkempt, dirty clothes, uncombed hair or unshaven.

-Physical limitations: severe difficulty seeing, speaking, hearing or moving about.

-Condition of home: in need of repair, neglected yard, old newspapers lying about, offensive odors or unattended pets.

If you observe any of these conditions, report them to your county aging services agency.