Americans significantly underestimate the impact that a family member’s long-term care needs could have on their own lives, marriages, work commitments, financial stability and future financial security, finds a new landmark study, Our Family, Our Future: The Heart of Long Term Care Planning, sponsored by Genworth Financial and released in November by Age Wave and Harris Interactive. The study, conducted online in September among 2,151 U.S. adults age 18 and over, sought to uncover the hopes, worries and needs of family members providing care to loved ones.

An estimated 66 million Americans – or roughly 20% of the U.S. population – are serving as unpaid family caregivers. The research revealed the actual impact of caregiving on this group is often significantly greater than expected, as evidenced by the following Top 5 Family Caregiving Myths and Misconceptions:

1. Financial Contributions: While only 40% of caregivers expect they will contribute financially to the care of a family member, the reality is 83% actually do.

2. Income Hit: In actuality, 63% of caregivers experience a reduction in income. This compares to 38% of caregivers that expect to experience such a reduction.

3. Reduction in Savings: 37% of caregivers expect their savings to decline as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. The study found, in fact, 61% of caregivers have used some of their savings to care for a loved one.

4. Retirement Funds Tapped: Of caregivers surveyed, 57% actually tapped their retirement funds to care for a loved one, compared to 34% who expected to do so.

5. Career Impact: Nearly half (48%) of caregivers lost a job, changed shifts or missed out on career opportunities as a result of their caregiving responsibilities, compared to 29% who expected such impact.

“Not only do people underestimate the financial, emotional and other costs associated with providing care to a loved one, they greatly discount the likelihood that they themselves will need long-term care in the future,” said Colleen Goldhammer, senior vice president, financial institutions distribution, at Genworth. “This disconnect can be potentially dangerous, as it may discourage people from developing their own comprehensive long term care plan.”

The study also found on average Americans say they would ideally like to live to age 92. Despite the growing desire to live well beyond the average life expectancy in the United States, only 35% of Americans believe they will ever need long-term care. In reality, however, over two-thirds (70%) of people over age 65 will actually need long-term care at some point during their lives.

“With Americans now hoping to live into their 90s, worries about their future health and financial well-being are top of mind,” said Ken Dychtwald Ph.D., psychologist, gerontologist, author and CEO of Age Wave. “We’re now starting to see the financial and emotional ripple effects that longevity has on the families of those needing care. With the first of America’s 78 million boomers poised to begin turning 65 on January 1, 2011, these kinds of challenges will soon be widespread,” he added.

A complete copy of the study findings is available online at caringtalk.com/LTC.