In a previous column we talked about the challenges of being a long-distance caregiver. The subject matter dealt with knowing as much as possible when the caregiver is not local.

One key component that should be added to the list of things a long-distance caregiver needs to have is a “Need to Know Kit”. This is a book that contains critical information about the cared-for individual which may be helpful in the case of an emergency. Caregivers can rely on a single source of information that the cared-for may not be able to produce or remember at a critical juncture.

The “NTK” book should have multiple copies held by anyone who will be in a position of caregiving at any point in the future and one copy should always be in the home of the cared-for. And, while professional home care agencies have systems for collecting such information, having key information at hand will go a long way toward smoothing the process of planning care.

The NTK book should also come in two versions. A full version that includes private material such as financial information and a more public version that has information that assists in keeping the cared-for individual healthy and safe.

Some of the elements of the NTK book should include:

A Complete Health History. You could probably get a copy of such a form from your physician like those you fill out when visiting a doctor for the first time. Some stock forms are available for download online (be careful not to get into forms you fill out online, but they charge you to print). In any case such forms should include information about allergies, illnesses, surgeries, immunizations, and results of physical exams and tests. It should also include information about medicines taken and health habits, such as diet and exercise.

Emergency Contacts. This should include family members and medical professionals as well as preferred hospitals.

Medical Legal Documents. If the person being cared for has a Medical Power of Attorney, a copy should be included in the NTK book as well as Do-Not-Resuscitate orders if applicable.

In the more private version of the NTK book, include financial accounts, passwords, social security numbers and other information that, should the person being cared for be unable to speak for him or herself a trusted caregiver can step in smoothly. The private version can also include copies of the will, life insurance documents, safe deposit access and the like.

The less obvious but important benefit of preparing a Need-to-Know book is that it gives the family an opportunity to discuss topics often overlooked until it is too late. Talking about prospective illness and death are not comfortable topics. Having a purpose for the discussion can make the process more comfortable.

Once compiled, the public version of the book should be located where every person who is involved in the care of your loved-one has access to it and knows where it is located. Ideally every caregiver has a copy, both family members and any professional caregivers whom you may retain to assist. The private version should be retained by the person or persons most trusted with such sensitive data.