You'd think dying would rank as our worst fear. But a recent survey reveals that it's actually the least of our worries. More than five times as many people -- a solid 55% of Americans -- are terrified that a long-term illness will make them a burden to their family. Roughly 24% dread ending up in a nursing home; 12% worry about burning through their savings; and only 10% fear the Grim Reaper.

Yet the Age Wave/Harris Interactive survey, sponsored by Genworth Financial, revealed that Americans are doing surprisingly little to address their No. 1 concern. We don't talk about long-term care with our loved ones. We don't express our preferences. And by and large, we don't prepare for the possibility. No wonder we're worried!

Scary numbers
The big picture suggests that most of us should be at least a little nervous about long-term care. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), roughly 70% of adults over age 65 will need some type of long-term care during their lifetimes. That aid's not cheap, either. The average 65-year-old couple may spend $200,000 on health care in retirement. If one of them ends up in a nursing home, that bill could even top $500,000.

Soothing strategies
Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to make your situation better:

  • Take care of yourself, to decrease the odds that you'll need long-term care.
  • Talk with your loved ones about your preferences and plans.
  • Figure out how much you need to save, and how you'll do so.
  • Look into buying long-term care insurance. It's not right for everyone, but it might be right for you.

Help from Washington
Still worried? Consider this last bit of encouragement: The "Class Act" recently became law. It will create a long-term care insurance program, run by HHS, that you can voluntarily sign up for, which will help defray the costs of long-term care. It won't cover everything, but it could be a big help for many people.

The prospect of long-term care for you or your loved ones needn't weigh heavily on your mind. Planning for it and talking about it can help you ensure a brighter, burden-free future.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of no company mentioned in this article. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.