SUICIDAL elderly people could be saved if a help line was redesigned, according to a City Polytechnic study to be released in December. Dr John Tse Wing-ling, senior lecturer in applied social studies at the polytechnic said a person aged over 60 committed suicide every three days, according to coroner's statistics. Befrienders International said that less than seven per cent of callers to their suicide prevention hotline were in the older age group. ''We're absolutely failing to help people over 45,'' said Brian Goshawk, spokesman for the Befrienders. ''It's really a huge problem but research will show us how to get to those people.'' The study will identify the best services to offer suicidal callers of all ages at three new centres set to open next year. The Befrienders set up the Samaritan's 24-hour hotline and received 13,000 callers last year. However, elderly people often did not have access to a phone if they lived in nursing homes, or were more comfortable speaking to someone in person, Mr Goshawk said. ''It's all very well for people in the West who are used to making phone calls. What if you are a 62-year-old Chinese lady who has never used a phone in your life?'' he said. The Samaritans will promote their service by letting older people know they can come into the centres and speak directly to volunteers. They will also ask the younger generation to introduce their elderly relatives to the telephone hotline. Dr Tse said new strategies must look beyond the traditional hotline to help the suicidal. ''People who want to commit suicide often don't bother going to a phone book and looking up the number for the hotline,'' he said. Dr Tse would like to see more studies done on suicide prevention and programmes developed to educate children in schools. The hotline would be improved if the role of volunteers who staff the centres was tailored to the culture of the caller, he said.