The meaning that older adults give to their functional dependence may impede self-care for their health and lead to total dependency, which can be avoided through the development of nursing interventions focused on rehabilitation, education and reconstruction of its meaning. A qualitative study was conducted to understand the meaning that older adults give to their own functional dependency and to describe the features that explain the construction of this meaning. Five Mexican older adults with functional dependence, according to the Barthel index and self-perception of dependence, participated. Qualitative data were obtained through a semi-structured interview. The sampling was obtained by logical criteria, and the analysis was based on grounded theory. The outcomes revealed that the meaning of dependence is based on the need for care, in which families become the main source. To be dependent means a transformation where being or doing come to an end; it includes suffering from both the individual and his or her family, as well as fearing the unknown. Factors involved in the construction of meaning are: sources of help, feelings, as well as physical, social and economic losses.