Sheryl Hayashida has been appointed director of the WISE & Healthy Aging Elder Abuse Prevention Program in Santa Monica.

With her new position, Hayashida says she is committed to reducing incidents of elder abuse in the community and improving the rate in which they are reported.

“Education is so important in preventing elder abuse,” said Hayashida, adding that seniors are too often targets for fraud. “The elderly tend to have assets, a home and might be lonely, which make them perfect prey for unscrupulous people.”

Officials at WISE & Healthy Aging, a nonprofit social services organization, say that “self-neglect” is considered the most common form of abuse, accounting for 55 percent of cases. Self-neglect is often linked to depression, which may lead elders to stop taking prescribed medications, skip meals, avoid leaving the house and generally neglect their health, appearance and home, according to WISE.

“It’s so important for seniors to join groups, to keep active and to make intergenerational friends,” said Hayashida, who plans to continue speaking frequently on such topics in the community. “The elderly need a support system to help them cope when they lose friends and loved ones in their own age group.”

Hayashida says she ultimately wants to encourage and nurture respect for older people in society.

“In Japan, the country designates certain older people as ‘living treasures’ and they honor these people,” she says. “That’s what I want to do at WISE — to teach respect for the elderly.”

Since 1995 the Elder Abuse Prevention Program at WISE has sought to provide elders with the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves against financial, physical and emotional abuse.

Hayashida will oversee four programs designed to educate and safeguard seniors — Advocates for Conserved Elders, Financial Abuse Specialist Team, Seniors Against Investment Fraud and WISE Senior Fraud Prevention Call Center.

Despite having a background in criminal, corporate and employment law, Hayashida says she has had a longstanding interest in elder law, which was influenced by her experiences as the child of an aging parent.

She gained experience in the field at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, where she initially volunteered and was later hired as a clinic staff attorney. Hayashida established the Conservatorship and Elder Abuse Clinic, created in collaboration with the Los Angeles Superior Court.

She also began and maintains a private practice focused on conservatorships and elder abuse restraining orders.

“This is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done,” she said. “People are so appreciative of your efforts to help them and their family members.”

Hayashida previously served as an advisory member of the Daily Money Management Program at WISE. She is also involved with the Elder Abuse Task Force, a partnership with the Superior Court, as well as the Keep-Safe Coalition, a nonprofit organization addressing financial elder abuse.