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Opinion: This Valentine's Day, I'm giving the gift of hearing

Scott Simon gets fitted for his first pair of hearing aids.
Caroline Simon
Scott Simon gets fitted for his first pair of hearing aids.

Valentine's Day is next Wednesday, and I'm getting my wife and daughters the gift of hearing aids — for me.

Our family is tired of asking, "Please pass the broccoli," only for me chime back, "Sure, we can play Monopoly!"

I'm told it's been like living with a defective smart speaker. Our daughters ask, "Can we stop at Trader Joe's?" and I say, "Why do you want lederhosen?"

I've had hearing loss for a while, probably exacerbated by covering wars where the percussive thump of artillery fire walloped my ears. And I'm not the only person to resist doing something about it. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that only 16% of those between 20 and 69 years of age who would benefit from hearing aids have ever used them.

Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars. But I confess the main reason I refused to get fitted for them was fear that people would glimpse hearing aids, curled around my ears like barnacles on a shipwreck, and regard me as aged and frail.

But just about the coolest person I know has hearing aids. Scott Simons, no relation, though we enjoy any confusion, is on America's Got Talent, sings the Paw Patrol theme song, has a rock band, and is barely in his 40's. He's had hearing aids since he was 18.

"It's scary and humbling to have to get hearing aids," Scott told us. "Especially as a musician. I don't want people to doubt my talent or ideas because they think I can't hear. But isn't it more embarrassing to have to guess how to answer something you didn't fully hear? I don't know why glasses aren't embarrassing for people, but hearing aids are." The World Health Organization estimates a fifth of the world's population will have some form of hearing loss in their lives. That's not just those of us who grew up listening to Iron Butterfly and the Rolling Stones.

I've learned that a lot of people I admire have hearing aids I've never even noticed. Audio technology has become so sleek.

My wife and I flipped through color swatches to choose my hearing aids. She sensed exactly what to say to ease my embarrassment when we saw one with a slightly shiny gold finish. "Look, darling," she said. "Champagne." This Valentine's Day I'm glad to know I will hear a lot more from my wife in the years to come.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.