Objective: The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify the cultural and subjective aspects that guide family life with a dependent older person. Method: It was used, as theoretical framework, the influence of the culture on family health. The method utilized was the case study based on some assumptions of ethnography. The informers were 11 members of 5 families who had a dependent older person as one of their members. Results: The analysis of the latent content implicit in the interviews made possible the identification of two main categories: “Old age and dependency as life events” and “Family adaptation faced with living with a dependent elderly”. Final considerations: This study found that cultural factors directly influence the manner of adapting to the situation of aging with dependence and thus, efforts must be exerted by the health professionals who adopt the family as care unit, to adopt a healthy family adjustment to old age.