Born in Puente Genil, Córdoba on October 29, 1901, but a resident of Barcelona for decades now, Spaniard Ana Vela has just become the oldest person in Europe and the fourth oldest in the world, at the age of 115. According to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), the death on Saturday of 117-year-old Italian Emma Morano has bumped Vela up the list of the world’s oldest people, with just three people the world over being older than her – all of them women.
Violet Brown from Jamaica is now the world’s oldest person, at 117, followed by Nabi Tajima, 116, and Chiyo Miyako, 115, both from Japan. Brown and Tajima are the last people to have been born in the 19th century – before January 1, 1901 – to still be alive on the planet.
Ana Vela currently lives in a retirement home in the north of Barcelona, and last June she became the oldest woman in Spain. Her health is fragile, however, and a year ago she broke her leg. Since then she has had to get around in a wheelchair, and is unable to communicate either with her carers or her daughter Ana, who is 89, and who recently had to give up her almost daily visits to see her mother due to her own health problems.
I always thought my grandmother would live a long time: she was doing really well at 100 Grandson Antonio
Her grandson, Antonio Vela, 65, does get to visit her regularly however. “I have always thought that my grandmother would live for a long time because she was doing really well at the age of 100,” he explained on Sunday. “I hoped that one day she would be the oldest person in Spain but I never thought she would be the oldest in Europe.”
In an interview with EL PAÍS last summer, her daughter explained that there are no magic ingredients behind the longevity of her mother: “She liked a glass of semi-sweet wine with her food but didn’t drink that much,” she explained. “She like to eat everything though: meat, fish, vegetables… She followed a very ordinary diet.”
When she arrived at the retirement home at the age of 103, she took part in all of the activities and was up to date with what was going on in the world. “She just needed her walking stick,” said María Rosa Martín, the state-run institution’s psychologist. “She loved musical therapy and she read the newspaper every day.”
Her place as the oldest person in Europe symbolizes the great advances that life expectancy has taken in Spain. According to the country’s National Statistics Institute (INE), around 15,000 Spaniards are currently aged 100 or older, 80% of whom are women. The figure is more than double what it was 15 years ago. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks Spain as the country with the second-longest life expectancy at birth, at 83.2 years, just behind Japan, with 83.4 years. When Ana Vela was born, life expectancy for women in Spain was 35.7 years.
English version by Simon Hunter.